Archive for the ‘Land Use’ Category

Things to Consider re: Mid-County Park and Estate Homes Comprehensive Plan Amendment on March 6, 2018

hoe– This is not a proposal from a long-time landowner who was affected by 1998 Comp Plan.  The developer made a speculative gamble when he bought the land in 2003.  He knew then that 118 homes, as proposed, far exceeded the zoning or the development projected in the future in the Comprehensive Plan.

– The Development Area and the Rural Area, defined in the 1998 Comprehensive Plan, were intended to remain separated by a permanent urban growth boundary.  Prince William County reviews and updates its Comprehensive Plan every 10 years. Previous plan revisions had expanded the area to be developed, but in 1998 the supervisors “drew the line.”   They decided to stop extending sewer lines further away from the waste treatment plants.

The decision to adopt a permanent urban growth boundary was designed to steer development in future decades by upgrading public infrastructure within the Development Area.  The 10-acre lot size in the Rural Area was designed to keep the area as a permanent, low-density rural area.  The adoption of the urban growth boundary ended the old pattern of treating the western part of the county as a “land bank,” with new development to be authorized later.

– The Mid-County Park and Estate Homes proposal is not a “good project.”  It is a camel’s nose, inviting every other developer to propose future amendments to extend sewer lines and developer denser subdivisions with more houses across the entire Rural Area.  That might enrich some land speculators, but would defeat the benefits of the urban growth boundary, require higher taxes to pay for widening roads and building more public infrastructure.  High-priced houses at  Mid-County Park and Estate Homes will still trigger tax increases, as more proposals for sewers and houses leads to sprawl  and future road bonds.

– This plan is inconsistent with the county’s requirements for initiating a Comprehensive Plan Amendment:
Economic Development Opportunities: this housing development is not an economic development project involving targeted industries, and will not attract companies or bring new professional and other high-paying jobs
Diversity of Housing: proposes just more of the same, more single-family residences in an area of single-family residences
Transit-Oriented   Development: development would not be transit-compatible because density is too low and location is not within walking distance of PRTC bus stop or VRE station.
Compatible Land Uses: Long Branch forms the boundary between Rural Area and Development Area, so it encroaches across the boundary and is incompatible with Rural Area designation
Environment and Open Space: Extending sewer and tripling the number of houses does not protect the environment or maintain open space.  Clustering 33 houses on the property would be environmentally sensitive, but building 108 houses in any configuration here fails to protect the resources.
Mixed-Use   Neighborhoods: this project is the exact opposite of the mixed use, live-work-play communities envisioned in the county’s Strategic Plan and Comprehensive Plan
Public Services in the Development Area: this project is the exact opposite of the strategy to locate future public services within the Development Area, giving priority to areas of economic development or redevelopment initiatives.
Adequate Level of Service: this project is outside a “small area plan” boundary, so the developer is no longer required to proffer any mitigation of impacts on schools, transportation, or other public services
Road, Pedestrian, and Transit Facilities: this project will put another 100 cars/hour on the road at rush hour, adding to traffic congestion
Sector Plans: this project is an isolated proposal, a stand-alone exercise outside of the sector plans and small area plans used to address proposed changes in land use in a coordinated way
Quality of Life: this project simply expands suburban sprawl, damaging the Rural Area and failing to move Prince William forward towards its vision as a distinctive, live-work-plan community

– The Rural Preservation Study does not justify the Mid-County Park and Estate Homes Comprehensive Plan Amendment.   The Rural Preservation Study is just a contractor’s deliverable, and has been sitting on a shelf in the Planning Office since 2014.  It has never been adopted by the Planning Commission or the Board of County Supervisors.  It is not part of the Comprehensive Plan, and is not a valid basis for amending it. The Rural Preservation Study might be relevant for the update of the Comprehensive Plan in 2019 – but in that case, an equivalent Development Area Study should also be completed.

–  Adding sewer and houses in the Rural Area is development, not Rural Area Preservation.

When There Is Not Enough $$$ in the Budget – Why Add More Work, Now?

contOn March 6, the Board of County Supervisors will be asked to transfer $100,000 to the Planning Office

In 2016, the supervisors directed the planning staff to complete 9 “Small Area Plans” as part of the Comprehensive Plan update.  However, there are not enough planners working for the county to do all that planning.

Logically enough, the Planning Department has requested extra funding to hire consultants.  With $100,000 in extra resources, the Planning Office can complete preparations and the supervisors can vote as scheduled in 2019 on the update of the Comprehensive Plan.

So… why would the supervisors add an extra straw to the camel’s back and initiate the proposed MidCounty Park and Estate Homes Comprehensive Plan Amendment on March 6?

Who will pay for the staff to do the extra work for this amendment, one year before the scheduled update of the entire plan?

What’s the logic of doing another amendment to the Comprehensive Plan, now?

Yup, the Camel Will Try to Stick Its Nose Into the Tent on March 6, 2018

a1For the third time, for the third time, yes for the third time a developer is asking the supervisors to initiate the Mid-County Park & Estate Homes Comprehensive Plan Amendment.

That would allow building 118 houses.  Since 32-33 houses have been authorized there since 1998, the developer is asking for a massive increase in density.

Busting the Rural Area boundary would ignore the county’s long-term growth strategy in the Strategic Plan and the Comprehensive Plan.  It’s an outdated, dumb growth, get-rich-at-the-expense-of-the-taxpayer proposal.

County supervisors determined in 1998 that the suburban sprawl which started after World War II was no longer acceptable.  Taxes were climbing too high, traffic congestion was increasing, and something had to be done.

The “something” was a long-term solution to a long-term problem.  The 1998 Comprehensive Plan established a long-term urban growth boundary.

It defined a Rural Area for low-density development, and a Development Area where it would be cost-effective to provide public services for new houses.  As the county’s population increased, supervisors would need to fund new infrastructure – but concentrating it in the Development Area would minimize the need to raise property taxes.

In 2008, the last update of the Comprehensive Plan re-affirmed the benefits of maintaining the urban growth boundary.

Shaping growth is a long-term game.  County supervisors use Comprehensive Plans to shape how the county should evolve in the next 20 years.  The plans get technical updates regularly, and a thorough review every ten years.

Next update, due to be completed in 2019, will require another defense of the urban growth boundary.

Obviously, some land speculators hope to re-start sprawl on March 6, without even waiting for the discussion that’s scheduled for the Comprehensive Plan update next year. Does anyone think the Mid-County Park & Estate Homes proposal will be the only request to add more houses in the Rural Area, and abandon the Strategic Plan?

If we start scattered residential development now, we will add traffic on our rural roads.  Funding to widen local roads will never get ranked high enough to qualify for state and Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) funding, so sprawl will force the county to issue road bonds again and pay extra taxes again.  It will be 1998, all over again.

Sprawl raises taxes – so if you want to protect the Rural Area and your wallet, tell your supervisors how you feel.

Supervisors are scheduled to decide on this Comprehensive Plan Amendment at the 2:00pm meeting on March 6.

If you want to share your perspective in advance, you can contact Corey Stewart, Frank Principi, Ruth Anderson, John Jenkins, Pete Candland, Maureen Caddigan,  Jeanine Lawson, and Marty Nohe at,,,,,,,


What We Told the Board of County Supervisors re: Mid-County Park & Estate Homes Comprehensive Plan Amendment

Dear Supervisors,

The Prince William Conservation Alliance supports implementation of the county’s Strategic Vision, to create live-work-play communities in Prince William. We support increasing jobs within our county, by encouraging growth at places such as Innovation and along Route 1.

Prince William Conservation Alliance supports minimizing future traffic congestion by constructing new housing on transit corridors in the Development Area closest to the job centers in Fairfax, Arlington, and the District of Columbia.

We support investing in new public facilities where they can serve the greatest number of people at the lowest cost, in the area designated for development since 1998.

We support lower property taxes, by incentivizing growth in the Development Area where it is cost-effective to provide new fire/police stations, schools, libraries, and other services that must be expanded as population grows.

We support designating agriculture and agri-tourism as a “targeted industry” for economic development in that part of our county furthest away from the job centers, maintaining it as our Rural Area.

We encourage you to do the same, by rejecting the proposal to initiate the Mid-County Park & Estate Homes Comprehensive Plan Amendment on March 6. Do not add more houses in the Rural Area.  Do not bust the urban growth boundary that has existed in every Comprehensive Plan and was formally adopted in 1998.

Our county’s Strategic Plan highlights that quality of life is a primary factor that “families, individuals and businesses rely upon when choosing where to locate…” The

Comprehensive Plan is designed for Prince William to evolve into “a role model in many areas… from the provision of public services to protecting our natural resources.”

That requires steering development in the Development Area, and protecting the Rural Area. The alternative is to encourage suburban sprawl. In 1998 the supervisors recognized that sprawl development sabotages transit, raises property taxes, increases traffic congestion, and reduces the distinctive quality of life that makes Prince William competitive when recruiting businesses to provide local jobs.

There are costs, and there are no benefits for the public, if you abandon the growth strategy used for the last 20 years. Stay the course.

Save the Rural Area (Again!) on March 6

On March 6, the county supervisors are poised to decide on yet another attack against the urban growth boundary adopted in 1998.

A developer has requested a Comprehensive Plan Amendment for a subdivision in the Rural Area,.  According to the Generalized Development Plan, 108 118 houses could be constructed on a parcel planned for 32 homes.

Supervisor’s vote is reportedly scheduled for March 6, though that agenda item is not formally locked in yet.

The “Mid-County Park & Estate Homes” proposal is the third attempt to bust the Rural Area boundary at that site. The developer purchased the land in 2003, long after he knew the allowed density was for 32 homes.

You can make a nice profit building 32 homes on property bought with the land prices from 15 years ago. Evidently, a nice land speculation profit is not enough for some developers.  The county’s zoning on that parcel has been in place for two decades, but he dreams of even more, more, more houses.

Supervisors previously rejected amending the Comprehensive Plan at this site because adding 76 unplanned houses there would provide no public benefits. The private developer would get windfall benefits, while the public would get stuck with the costs of sprawl.

Sprawl is “dumb growth.” It ultimately increases property taxes, because it is more expensive to provide public services (fire/police stations, for example).

That’s why the supervisors adopted the Rural Area and Development Area boundaries in 1998. Voters were aroused by steadily increasing property taxes. The county’s population had boomed, and it was clear that focusing growth in the Development Area would minimize the costs to provide new public infrastructure.

Now the supervisors are being asked to change the course followed for the last 20 years, start allowing unplanned growth in the Rural Area, and eventually increase property taxes to support scattered development.

The “Mid-County Park & Estate Homes” development being considered on March 6 is not a proposal for a park. It’s a proposal to authorize unplanned houses, to trigger a surge of land speculation in the Rural Area, and to repeat the tax headache face by supervisors in 1998.

The supervisors should reject this development proposal – for the third time.



Changing the VRE Manassas Line: Exploring the Godwin Road Station Alternative

The Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is exploring if it should extend the line that runs from Broad Run through Manassas to Union Station, as well as add three new trains to carry commuters into DC each morning.

The “full bore” expansion option is to build new stations at Innovation, Gainesville, and Haymarket, while closing the existing Broad Run station and the end of the Manassas Line  That would require adding a second (and potentially a third) railroad track for the 11 miles to Haymarket, plus construction of a new railyard west of that town.


Compared to the “minimal change” alternative of adding the three new trains but maintaining the existing station at Broad Run,  constructing a new 11-mile extension to Haymarket would cost an additional $250-$350 million.  Despite the expense for the additional infrastructure, VRE would carry only an additional 300 daily commuters each way in 2025 compared to the “minimal change” alternative.

Adding additional trains but still using the Broad Run station would provide a better benefit/cost ratio  than the alternative of building three new stations, new tracks, and a new railyard near Haymarket.   However, retaining the Broad Run station would create a major problem with train storage.

The railyard at Broad Run is limited in size.  The current passenger platform blocks addition of the extra storage tracks that would be necessary, if VRE added three additional trains in each direction.

A third alternative, costing perhaps $10 million more than the “minimal change” option, is to build a new station where the railroad crosses Godwin Road in Manassas.


Godwin Road would become the end-of-line station and the platform at Broad Run would be closed.  The Godwin Road alternative would allow expansion of the existing railyard.


It would cost far less to implement the Godwin Road alternative, compared to the high costs of building an extension to Haymarket with three new stations and a new railyard .  A Godwin Road end-of-line station would also minimize annual operating costs, since the trains in the yard would be located just 1.5 miles away from the location where service starts/ends each day.

Most significantly, a station at Godwin Road is not underneath the flight path of Manassas Airport.  Unlike Broad Run, the new end-of-line station could trigger transit-oriented development and create economic benefits consistent with the City of Manassas Comprehensive Plan.

The Manassas Landing area is described as a “gateway” for development.  Placing a VRE station there could result in high-tech companies choosing to locate there.  Adding more trains to VRE would offer the potential for skilled workers living within the urban core to commute to jobs in Manassas without using a car.


Planning for growth at Godwin Road provides a clear contrast to the planning by Prince William County for the land west of Haymarket.  VRE has proposed a new station located west of Route 15, but at that site the station would be located within the Rural Area.

The Rural Area is supposed to be a zone of low density development. Unless current land use planning is ignored in order to speculate on rezonings that would transform the area, there would be few (if any) economic benefits for a new VRE station located west of Haymarket.


Additional Trains Coming on the Manassas Line… Will Transit-Oriented Development Follow?

The Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is planning to build three new stations and additional miles of track to extend commuter rail service to Haymarket.   VRE plans to submit a request for Federal funding, and therefore must study alternatives as well as its preferred plan.

Built into almost all alternatives is an expansion of service.  VRE currently operates 16 daily trains, eight inbound to Union Station in DC and eight returning home to the end of the line at Broad Run, next to Manassas Airport.


Between 5:00-8:00am on workdays, six morning trains with a capacity of about 100 people/rail car take commuters into DC.  One mid-day train goes into Union Station at 2:45pm.  One of the afternoon commuter trains returns into DC at 5:10pm to make a second run home at the end of the workday.

VRE is a commuter rail system, designed to carry passengers from Prince William, Manassas, and Manassas Park to jobs in the urban core in the morning and to bring those workers home each evening.

VRE is not a transit system like Metrorail.  VRE shuts down on weekends and major holidays.  VRE  offers only one train going into DC in the late afternoon, and anyone using it would have to spend the night.  There is no evening service that would allow passengers to take the train into DC for an event and then return.

The trains run on freight rail tracks owned by Norfolk Southern between Manassas and Alexandria, and owned by CSX between Alexandria and Union Station.  The contract with CSX allows a maximum of 22 trains/day north of Alexandria.

CSX makes a profit running freight trains on those tracks.  The private railroad company is reluctant to lease additional slots of time to VRE because the current two-track railroad bridge over the Potomac River is a major bottleneck.  Until that bridge is replaced, VRE expects to be constrained to 22 daily trains north of Alexandria.

VRE offers only 16 trains carrying customers now, but uses all 22 slots allowed by CSX.  Two slots are used to bring empty trains back from DC for storage, because the yard near Union Station is too crowded.  VRE has “loaned” four slots/day to Amtrak, helping that long-distance passenger rail system and the state-supported regional rail version to offer additional service through Northern Virginia.


Whether or not VRE expands to Haymarket, the commuter rail system plans to add at least three trains in each direction.  That would increase current commuter rail service from 16 to the maximum of 22 daily trains carrying passengers.

How will VRE gain six slots?

New track for train storage will be constructed near L’Enfant Plaza.  The additional “parking spaces” for empty trains will allow VRE to convert the two slots used now to move empty trains so they carry paying passengers.

The four slots loaned to Amtrak will be reclaimed after new track is constructed on the Fredericksburg line.  Relieving congestion there will benefit CSX’s freight rail operations as well as passenger rail operations.   Amtrak will then negotiate for additional slots on its own, and release the four borrowed slots back to VRE.

Additional service will cost additional money.  VRE will have to purchase additional locomotives and rail cars to offer the additional three trains daily into DC, and three more back.  Federal and state grants may cover most or all of the one-time costs for capital equipment, but local governments will have to pay for the extra annual operations costs.  The tickets purchased by passengers cover 50-55% of the cost of each trip, and local governments subsidize the remainder.

In addition to the three additional trains to carry commuters in the morning and evening, VRE is considering expanding service throughout the day, adding 14 more train trips.

VRE could run one train/hour on the Manassas Line between rush hours, with trains stopping in Alexandria.  By stopping in Alexandria, VRE avoids the bridge bottleneck that blocks additional trains from going across the Potomac River.

Customers could switch to Metrorail at Alexandria.  People living in the DC area could use Yellow/Blue Line trains to get to Alexandria, then catch VRE to get as far as Broad Run.

Adding train service every hour on workdays could have a long-term but dramatic effect on job creation in Manassas Park, Manassas, and Prince William County.

High-tech firms are reluctant to open an office on the periphery of the urban core, even though costs for space are lower and skilled workers are readily available (and potentially willing to demand less money, in order to eliminate the long commute to Tysons Corner, Arlington, or DC).  The number of workers with a car and willing to commute outward to the edge of the urban region is limited.

If VRE offered consistent, reliable train access throughout the day, employers located south of the Occoquan River could tap into the pool of expertise, including the millenials with cybersecurity or other specialized training who have chosen to live “downtown.”

The best way to measure if that scenario is coming true will be to measure demand for office space within walking distance of a VRE station (about ¼ mile).  Rents are at a premium near Metrorail stations.  If the same pattern develops near VRE stations, then the additional train service could be credited with spurring Transit Oriented Development.

fostersredevelopment of buildings next to the Manassas train station
demonstrates the potential impact of converting VRE
from a commuter rail system into a transit system 


March 15, 2016 Vote on Bi-County Parkway

repeatUpdate: The Board of County Supervisors voted 4-3 on March 15 to remove the Bi-County Parkway from the Comprehensive Plan.
Look closely – can you see how the Bi-County Parkway will spur economic development in Prince William County?

Prince William would get the traffic, from I-95 to I-66 and then north through the supposedly-protected Rural Area. If any business activity is generated by the road, it would be next to Dulles International Airport – far away in Loudoun County.

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors vote on March 15.  The 8 supervisors have the opportunity on March 15 to delete this taxpayer-funded subsidy for business development in Loudoun County.

The county should focus public investment, especially state funding for transportation, on projects that will spur economic development in Prince William.   In Arlington County, homeowners and commercial property owners each pay about 50% of property taxes. In Prince William, homeowners pay about 80%.

Supervisors who say they want to limit property tax increases on homeowners know that the best long-tern strategy is to spur commercial development in Innovation, especially on Route 1 and at Innovation.  Such development benefits homeowners who live on both the eastern and western halves of the county.

Prince William could grow local jobs at Innovation – but the Bi-County Parkway won’t make that happen.

The region won’t benefit either.  Northern Virginia needs transportation projects that reduce congestion.  Supervisors need to plan transportation solutions to fix what’s broke, rather than waste tax dollars on the Bi-County Parkway.

Madera Farm – The Backstory

January 20, 2016 UPDATE:  The Board of County Supervisors approved the addition of Madera to the Agricultural and Forestal District on January 19 in a 7-0 vote, but only after the landowner committed to cancel the request for a Special Use Permit.  

The Gainesville District supervisor negotiated that in advance.  The Prince William Conservation Alliance spoke at the public hearing in support of commercial agriculture, rather than industrial operations, in the Rural Area. 

Normally, adding a farm in western Prince William’s Rural Area to an Agricultural and Forestal District would be a routine event. The county established that land use classification in 1973 to facilitate preservation of farms and forests.

However, Madera “Farm” is not a normal agricultural operation. It resembles more closely an industrial operation, grinding mulch and processing construction and demolition debris.


Adding Madera to an adjacent Agricultural and Forestal District would undercut efforts to maintain commercial agricultural operations in Prince William County. It would reduce the credibility of actual farmers working to preserve farmland, and open the door to increased housing and retail strip shopping districts in the county’s Rural Area. Continue reading

VRE to Haymarket… Who Benefits?

VREVRE Community Meeting!
Update: at the meeting, VRE displayed but did not highlight its exhibit on the number of trains per day.  The exhibit was used to create the inaccurate impression that a Haymarket extension would somehow increase the number of trains using the Manassas Line.  If anything, spending money to build new track would reduce the capital funding available to buy new trains.

Tonight… Tuesday, Nov. 10, 6-8 p.m. at Gainesville Middle School, 8001 Limestone Drive.

Bottom Line: VRE appears to be seeking public support for an extension to Gainesville/Haymarket. It’s a bait-and-switch sales pitch – make people think an extension to Haymarket will increase the number of trains per day.

If anything, spending capital funding on new track instead of buying new trainsets would reduce the potential for increasing the number of VRE trains running daily on Manassas Line.

A legitimate alternatives analysis should include:

  • not building any extension of track, and instead investing in new trainset.
  • not building any station at Haymarket that will induce additional demand from Culpeper, Fauquier, Warren, and Page counties.
  • not building a large parking capacity at any new station, but instead building multiple park-and-shuttle lots nearer to subdivisions so commuters in single occupancy vehicles won’t clog local highways at rush hour.

VRE should consider the alternative of building a new spur track into Innovation Town Center or north of current line, where Vulcan quarry is reaching end of its life and will be converted into water storage bank soon. A new end-of-line station at Innovation/Vulcan quarry could incentivize a high-density town center, and increase TOD potential there!

Prince William County has the opportunity to serve as a 21st century role model for smart transit growth, but the current VDOT plan demonstrates we have a long way to go!