To get “balance,” we need to think green for the environment as well as for the developer bank accounts

It was interesting to hear Martin Briley’s comment at the “business community” meeting with the Board of County Supervisors last Thursday, October 21.  He had gotten out of balance with his sales pitch to government contractors that might create jobs in Prince William.

Briley had stopped highlighting the “quality of life” aspects of the county.  However, in discussions with corporate executives, they kept focusing on the environment, the culture, and the “livability” of the county.  (It’s back in his pitch.)

What would happen if the Board of County Supervisors reject basic environmental protections, and give developers 100% flexibility for their version of “AAA” growth – where developers can build Anything, Anywhere, at Any Time?

Developers are asking for a Wild West, “anything goes” Comprehensive Plan.  Zoning will not be a constraint; Comp Plan amendments could be submitted at any time.  A neighborhood that had relied for years upon county zoning for predictable growth could, in one vote by the supervisors, be disrupted by incompatible plans for massive development next door.

Last Thursday’s meeting was intended to discuss the draft Land Use and Transportation chapters of the Comprehensive Plan, but the developers went on to attack the draft Environmental Chapter as too… well, environmental.   You’d think any balance towards conserving trees in Prince William would immediately poison the homebuilding industry.

Gee golly, the draft Environment Chapter even proposes to limit development in the buffers along streams, so the county might reduce the nitrogen/phosphorus/sediment that pours into streams after we pave over the fields and forests.  Rumor has it that EPA will enforce the Clean Water Act, finally, and every jurisdiction in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will have to limit pollution that goes to the bay…

Ya know… if we protect our current streams, acquire some public parkland, develop a trails network – whoa, we might comply with EPA mandates AND Briley might have something special to brag about.  If we don’t, then Prince William will replace natural areas with scattered, sterile “centers” filled with chain stores.  Briley might be able to sell a vanilla, looks-like-everywhere-else community to McDonalds for another fast food restaurant – but SAIC, Northrop Grumman, etc. are looking for some place that offers something special.

If we provide “flexibility” so a developer can pave every parcel from lot line to lot line… how will Briley claim Prince William has any competitive advantage over Fairfax/Loudoun/Arlington?  Those other places are always gonna be closer to Dulles, Tysons, and DC, no matter how many roads/rail lines/ferries we might build.

We gotta sell the livability of Prince William, together with a skilled work force that wants to commute to local, inside-the-county office buildings – or we’ll always be a bedroom community, with a tiny commercial tax base and high property taxes on homeowners.


1 comment so far

  1. mhamamo on

    Well said Charlie. The willy nilly build anywhere development has got to stop. It’s really not rocket science but it does take a BOCS that cares about the people and the county more than kissing the developers asses.

    They should be in the driver’s seat and tell the developers where they can develop.

    Also, it doesn’t help in the planning process when Towns like Manassas and Haymarket aren’t considered as centers for planning.

    If you are going to try to develop planned mixed use communities that provides commercial for jobs and residential and you don’t include the already existing established town centers in the inventory then to my mind it’s not too effective or smart.

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