Why the Planning Commission needs to improve the draft Land Use/Transportation Chapters

On January 19, the Board of County Supervisors is expecting to approve new Land Use and Transportation Chapters for the Comprehensive Plan.  These chapters have been in development since May, 2007.

The Planning Commission forwarded recommendations in 2009 for updating the Land Use and Transportation Chapters in the Comprehensive Plan.  However, because the Board of County Supervisors failed to act within 90 days, the Planning Commission must re-visit those two chapters on January 6.  If the Planning Commission reaffirms its old recommendations, or provides updated ones on Wednesday night, then look for a public hearing by the Board of County Supervisors on January 19.

After all this time for considering how to accommodate the 150,000 more people projected to live here by the year 2030, it’s amazing that county officials are still on the verge of approving… a long-term land use plan that does not define where growth is supposed to occur over the next 20 years.

The Planning Commission might add value on January 6, if it narrows the planned number of new “centers” for new development so the capacity for growth is based on the projected population for the year 2030.  Otherwise, supervisors are poised to authorize massive  new development, in many separate places, as if the county might grow by 300,000-500,000 people in the next 20 years.  In that case, no  one except a few developers will understand where new housing/retail/commercial development will occur.

One result: Prince William would be unable to justify any state/Federal investment in new rail transit infrastructure.  If the Board approves one of the proposed Land Use chapters, then kiss Metrorail and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) extensions goodbye.

In theory, the Comprehensive Plan shapes local development so landowners, developers, and residents can anticipate long-term changes.  For example, in a future update the county might plan for the warehouses in Featherstone to be replaced by residential housing.  While current zoning may stay unchanged for a decade longer, a future Land Use Chapter map may show the area as planned for housing.  That’s why the Comp Plan has a distant horizon, typically 20 years.

In this planning cycle, Prince William could steer new development to create a few concentrated “centers” of housing/jobs/retail development by 2030.  Creating some high-density town centers over 20 years would be “smart” growth.  “Dumb” growth would scatter 150,000 new residents willy-nilly across the county, repeating the current pattern of suburban sprawl.

Connecting nodes of development in the DC area will be expensive, but Prince William might manage to find $$$ to create a few transit centers.  If we grow smart, with incentives for developers and new residents so 150,000 new people settle in selected locations, then state/Federal agencies might determine it would be cost-effective to build new transit infrastructure to those places. If population density is high enough, then train cars would be fully loaded at the new stations and taxpayer subsidies for mass transit operating costs would not be excessive.

However, state/Federal agencies aren’t going to finance new rail capacity to a dozen or more places in Prince William.  Luxury service, where a handful of people almost always find an empty seat at every rail stop, just ain’t realistic. The Planning Commission, on January 66, gets one last chance to identify 2-3 locations that should become new “centers” of development, and new nodes of transit infrastructure.

If you think state/Federal taxpayers will toss  unlimited $$$ into the pot so Prince William can get a Blue Line Metrorail extension to Occoquan, Minnieville, Potomac Mills, plus an Orange Line extension to Sudley Road and Gainesville, plus a VRE extension to Innovation, University Boulevard, and Hymarket – hey, pass the pills, and let everyone join you in the fantasy.


1 comment so far

  1. […] the expected supervisors meeting and hear just what they plan for us int he the next two decades. Here’s a discussion from Prince William Conserve on two chapters of the county’s compreh… Link to this […]

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