Will the Supervisors Support a $600,000 Bailout for Apartments in Gainesville?

Once again, the Board of County Supervisors is being asked to waive proffer requirements in the Heritage Hunt area.  This time, the details are unusual but the basic formula is the same: a developer wants to expand development rights but have county taxpayers absorb certain costs.

As usual, the county’s Planning Department staff is supporting the developer’s request, rather than looking out for taxpayers.  Whenever a developer wants a special benefit, in this case to avoid paying the standard proffers for parks and libraries, the Planning Department finds that “on balance” the developer deserves a bailout.

The Marque at Heritage Hunt (which is separate from the Heritage Hunt gated community) is asking for the county to increase the residential opportunities on its property. Refinancing the facility would be oh-so-much easier if those pesky proffers, which were proposed by the developer when getting the original rezoning, could be waived.

Guess who will pay, if the proffers are waived?  (Looking in the mirror, or your wallet?)

The Marque is an already-constructed 200-unit luxury retirement  apartment community, off Heathcote Boulevard near the Route 29/I-66 interchange.  No one under 18 is allowed to live there, and one member of every apartment must be at least 55 years old.  The place has been described as a “virtual cruise ship on land… with world-class recreational facilities, social and business amenities, and a full complement of services including concierge, theatre, health club, available underground parking and gated entry.”

The residential facility was built on property originally zoned for commercial use.  In 2002, the supervisors granted a Special Use Permit for an age-restricted facility.  In that approval, supervisors waived schools, parks, and library proffers based on the hypothesis that people over 55 living in The Marque would not use those county facilities.  (Today, the library proffer would be $80,000, and the parks proffer would be $535,000.)

When The Marque was approved as an age-restricted facility, there was special effort to prohibit recreational facilities that might attract children.  The proffer required that “There shall be no tot lots, playgrounds designed or sized specifically for children or basketball courts constructed on the Property.”

Now the owners of the Marque want to drop the age restriction, to help in refinancing the mortgage.   The developer wants a free ride, with the county dropping the age restriction but not requiring the developer to contribute any funds for expanding county parks or library facilities.

If the age restriction is dropped without requiring the standard proffers, then the developer will get a sweet deal.  Commercially-zoned property will be transformed into standard residential use in several stages, and county taxpayers will get stuck with the the standard proffer costs (in this case, over $600,000) that developers of other properties are required to pay.

County staff calculated that 72 school-aged children would live at the Marque if the age limits were removed.   The School Board has already blocked efforts to skip paying the standard school proffers, but library and park proffers are still at risk.

The Planning Department staff claims no new recreational facilities would be needed to accommodate the 72 new children.  “Several recreational amenities have been provided [at the Marque] including a swimming pool with spa, activities court, and outside seating areas. Given the amenities provided on-site, the development does not create a shortfall between the new demand for parks and the existing park facilities.”

The Prince William Planning Department says waiving the age limit and requiring no park proffer is “consistent with the relevant components of the Parks, Open Space and Trails Plan.”   Huh?  County staff must assume those 72 new kids won’t play soccer at Long Park, or baseball at Catharpin Park.  County staff must assume those 72 new kids won’t play soccer at Long Park, or baseball at Catharpin Park.

By transferring costs of new development to county residents rather than require compliance with the Policy Guide for Monetary Contributions adopted by the Prince William Board of County Supervisors in 2006, the Planning Department seeks to maximize short-term developer profits and shift standard proffer costs to the taxpayers.

On May 4, the Board of County Supervisors will have an opportunity to:
1) require full proffer payment before dropping the age restriction, or
2) bail out a developer and stick the $600,000+ cost onto the backs of county taxpayers

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