The Cherry Hill Peninsula

Cherry Hill Peninsula, Powell's Creek shoreline, November 2004

Cherry Hill Peninsula shoreline November 2004

The Cherry Hill Peninsula was nearly 2,000 acres of high quality hardwood forest overlooking the Potomac River, with a network of wetlands and streams that meandered through a rugged landscape. It was our Mason Neck Peninsula, our Crow’s Nest.

But conservation is a hard sale in Prince William County. Despite opposition from hundreds of people, Supervisors rezoned Cherry Hill in January 2001 for high-density mixed-use development and a golf course.

The recent announcement that the Cherry Hill/Harbor Station development project has gone bankrupt and is being foreclosed comes as no surprise to many – but don’t blame it on the recession.

This development has struggled from the beginning. In 2002 the property was sold to Lee Carolina LLC. (KSI/Kettler, Sandler & Sons). Over the next several years, Kettler made a series of changes to the development plan that increased residential densities, relocated residential areas, changed the road network and modified proffered open space.

Funding for public infrastructure was also an issue. Located far from existing infrastructure, costs for transportation improvements were significant. Supervisors responded by approving a Community Development Authority for the development in 2006. This CDA allows the developer to issue more than $90 million in bonds to fund construction of the primary road through the development, improvements to the Route 234/Route 1 interchange and a VRE station.

But despite all this adjusting and incentivizing, there’s been little or no activity at the Harbor Station development site for well more than a year.

Much of the land north of Cherry Hill Road has been cut-and-filled. Erosion controls are in a shambles, leaving acre upon acre of bare soil to erode into Powell’s Creek and the Potomac River.  Major roads left in various stages of construction spider across the landscape. Perimeter roads are blocked by old boats with graffiti or rusting pipes.

Eight years after the rezoning, the Cherry Hill Peninsula is a mess and has been for quite some time.

What’s the problem? Costs to develop are always a factor. Properties with significant conservation values, such as Cherry Hill, can be very expensive to develop, generally for the same reasons they are important to protect – unstable/fragile soils, steep slopes, streams and wetlands, presence of protected species, absence of public infrastructure.

In the end, as the realtors say, location seems to be the key. The Urban Land Institute pointed this out in their February 2002 report on Prince William’s Potomac Communities, saying:

The largest town center currently being planned in the Potomac Communities is Southbridge Town Center on the Cherry Hill peninsula. The panel does not believe that this Town Center at Legend is likely to be built. To succeed, retail centers need high visibility and accessibility, and this site has neither. It is a dead-end location, away from the arterial road junctions, with no market on its eastern side.

The report goes on to say that “the Cherry Hill peninsula demands the urgent preparation of a new master plan,” recommends relocation of the town center from within Cherry Hill to a location near Route 1, and warns that failure to address these problems could impede efforts to attract the type of development needed to realize the County’s Potomac Communities vision.

What does the future hold for the Cherry Hill Peninsula? Although the economic downturn has perhaps dealt a fatal blow to at least one of the Harbor Station partners, the newspaper articles hint that Kettler is planning to stay the course, saying the project needs to be “rebooted and repackaged to match today’s economics…

After the smoke clears, it seems likely that we will see yet more changes proposed for the development of the Cherry Hill Peninsula.  Will the changes reflect the advice provided by the Urban Land Institute or continue subsidies for a fundamentally flawed plan?

Changes to the County’s Comprehensive Plan could also play a role. If approved by the Board, the Planning Commission’s current proposal to establish “proffer free” zones for properties that are greater than 100 acres, planned for high-density mixed-use communities and in need of “revitalization” could be the perfect opportunity for yet another rezoning of the Cherry Hill Peninsula… this time with no proffers.

2 comments so far

  1. […] when serious Clean Water Act violations occur on difficult development sites, such as those at the Harbor Station development on the Cherry Hill […]

  2. […] Source of impacts: Stormwater runoff from the construction of the road at Harbor Station development (Cherry Hill Peninsula) […]

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