Plab A vs. Plan B – go for Plan B re: “phasing development”

The Planning Commission will consider two drafts of the updated Land Use Chapter on April 15.  Both drafts (A and B) are fatally flawed.

The eight planning commissioners have the authority/responsibility to produce a good plan.  Fortunately they have more than two options.  The planning commissioners are not required to pick just one version on April 15.

Since both versions are seriously inadequate, the Planning Commission should start with one draft, delete the bad parts, and incorporate the good parts from the other draft.  A hybrid document with the best of both versions could be far better than A or B.

One place where Draft B has better language than Draft A: guidance on phasing development.

Draft A says:
PR1.10 A phasing plan must be provided to ensure that critical infrastructure (i.e. roads, sidewalks, drainage, water and sewer) for office, employment and lodging these uses is developed proportionately with each phase of the project.

Draft B adds to that a valuable sentence “In a mixed use designation area a phasing plan must also be provided to ensure proportional development of residential and non-residential within each phase of the project.

Far too often, we see mixed use development proposals that sound good if constructed according to what’s on paper – but there’s a bait-and-switch component.  Approvals are phased so residential development comes first.  If developers do not build the whole project, expect to see nothing but residences – with kids, burdening taxpayers to build more schools.

A classic example is the proposed Wheelers Grove project (PLN2005-00453).  It proposed 7 landbays for development – but of the 1.5 million square feet of office space, only 138,000 (9% of the total) would be built before all 772 multi-family dwelling units were completed.  The “mixed use” is 90% promises and 10% commitment.

Housing sells faster than offices in Prince William.  Unless phased development is mandated, a developer could maximize quick profit by building most of the residential and little of the office, then abandon the project and move on to a new development.

County planners want offices as well as bedrooms, but the staff’s draft (Plan A) is not specific enough.  If we don’t get more office development in PW County, we guarantee future commuter traffic jams – and property tax rebellions, when homeowners saddled with costs for schools push for caps on property taxes.

(Own residential property in the county now?  You’re carrying 86% of the tax load.  According to the Fiscal Year 2009 – 2013 Projections of General County Revenue, the percentage of property taxes paid by residential vs. commercial property taxes shifted dramatically between 2001 and 2007.  In 2001, commercial property contributed 22% of property taxes but by 2007, that number had dropped to 14%.)

Unless we require phased development, we’ll get rooftops and retail, but we won’t get offices.  So let’s be clear in the Comp Plan – anyone planning to build residential here also needs to build the commercial that is promised.

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