Archive for the ‘Open Government’ Category

Four County Organizations Request A Move Towards “Fair and Balanced” Local Government

Update January 12 — Supervisors said they understand why the community might feel excluded from the process and agreed to consider the petition presented by civic groups. They asked for a staff review, so stay tuned to see if any Supervisor recommends specific changes to the current Rules of Procedure.  In the meantime, share your views on open government with Supervisors!

Sports teams compete on level playing fields – but that’s not the way the Board of County Supervisors makes land use decisions in Prince William County.  The game is rigged, and the umpires are biased.

The blatant tilt to approve whatever is requested by the development industry, without consideration of the consequences, was demonstrated clearly when the Board adopted the Environment Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan in December 2010.

After the public hearing was closed, the development industry were invited to give yet another sales pitch for their support of last-minute revisions (which had been presented with no advance public notice by the Chair of the Board, after private meetings with industry officials).   The Board Chair blocked any opportunity for response, making sure the elected supervisors heard only one side of the debate.  One supervisor objected, but the other Board members sat quietly as the seesaw was tilted towards one point of view.

Now, as described in the News and Messenger and the Woodbridge Patch, four county organizations are petitioning the Board to use a more-transparent approach to making decisions.  The petition still allows supervisors total flexibility in voting their conscience (or whatever else shapes their decisions), but would require public release of proposed significant changes to major proposals before the Board.

The petition requests at least three business days of public review before supervisors vote.  Sunshine is a great disinfectant, and the petition seeks to minimize the appearance of “back-room deals,  preordained conclusions, collusion on the part of other Supervisors, and preferential deference to some stakeholders.”

School teachers in civics/government class stress that citizen involvement is essential in a democracy; we get the government we ask for.   The petition asks for transparency and a fair process.  Sound good to you?  Wait and see how the Board responds…

Environment Chapter: Developers propose 11th hour changes that will force higher tax increases this spring

Supervisors adopted most but not all the positive changes to the County’s Environment Chapter on December 7. This consensus document, as recommended by County staff, includes input from citizens, environmental organizations, civic groups, businesses and developers.

However, after the public hearing was closed, the Chairman put forward 11th hour revisions at the request of developers. Supervisors deferred these items to this Tuesday’s Board meeting, 2:00 pm, at McCoart Government Center.

Approval of these last minute changes would allow input from one special interest group (developers) without providing an equal opportunity to all stakeholders, notably citizens and community organizations.

The effect of these changes is to shift the cost of stormwater management away from developers, forcing local residents to pay higher stormwater fees.

Approval of these last minute changes would continue  the County’s business-as-usual approach, which leads to flooding and drainage problems on private property and requires significant taxpayer investments to fix.

It’s worth noting that next Tuesday’s Board Agenda includes a report from Public Works detailing the current taxpayer investments for projects that fix drainage problems on private property…problems that will continue to happen in the future if we don’t change the way we do business.

Below is a review of the proposed changes, click here to read the document the Chairman presented to Supervisors after the public hearing was closed. It’s important to remember that the Environment Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan establishes environmental policies and recommends (not requires) standards for development in Prince William County.

We recommend Supervisors reject these last minute changes and approve the staff recommendation in all cases. Continue reading

Last minute changes leave citizens out in the cold

Last night the Board of Supervisors approved new Transportation and Land Use Chapters of the Comprehensive Plan. Although the public hearing was closed, some citizens shared their views at Citizens Time. Mid-county SRR communities were well represented, showing strong support for the draft text intended to better protect the Occoquan Reservoir.

However, after Citizens Time was closed, Chairman Stewart and Supervisor Jenkins proposed substantive changes to the drafts, including one that removes public hearing requirements for the addition of lights at ball fields countywide.

Other amendments targeted the Mid-County SRR district, where the majority of Supervisors rejected draft text intended to increase protection for environmental resources in close proximity to our public drinking water supply, including creation of an Occoquan Reservoir Protection Overlay Zone. Instead, most Supervisors voted to maintain a business-as-usual approach, negating input provided by citizens over the last two years.

Citizens were not provided with an opportunity to read or review the amended text. There was little discussion on most amendments, making it difficult to understand or assess what was being proposed.

In the end, Supervisors approved the Transportation Chapter by unanimous vote. The Land Use Chapter was approved by a 7-1 vote, with Supervisor Mike May standing alone in advocating for a transparent process and a more positive Comprehensive Plan.

What should the Wiita Tract be used for?????

wiita tract aerial

On December 9, 2009, the Prince William County Park Authority Board is scheduled to vote on the Master Plan for a proposed 69 acre soccer complex  in the Rural Crescent.  Known as the Wiita Tract, this former farmland is located on Glenkirk Road, directly across from Lake Manassas and adjacent to Rollins Ford Road (where improvements are postponed indefinitly).

The Wiita Tract – A little history

The Wiita Tract was proffered to Prince William County citizens in January 2006 for Parks & Recreation as part of the Wellington Glen rezoning .  According to the proffers, the property is to be used for “parks and recreation purposes” (no mention of soccer fields).

However, at their September 2009 public meetings for the Wiita Tract Master Plan, the Park Authority presented the community with only one recreation choice for this Rural Crescent site – seven lighted soccer fields, public water and public sewer. Continue reading

Civic groups call for sunlight in development process

Trees separate pedestrians from traffic, provide shade and create more attractive communities.What you see at a rezoning can be very different than what you get when the project is built. Civic groups concerned about unexpected and unwelcome changes to development plans have banded together, connecting people countywide and establishing a central point for information sharing.

After much discussion and many meetings, the Federation of Community Associations for Land Use (FOCAL) has published some initial recommendations. These reflect their considerable concern about public notice shortfalls.

To start, people shared their concerns using examples from different development projects. Many were concerned about the loss of trees, especially those that were unexpected. After some investigation, FOCAL learned that 100% of vegetated buffers and landscape strips could be waived by staff… after the rezoning and with no public notice required. Continue reading

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) workshop in Manassas, October 27

“The affairs of government are not intended to be conducted in an atmosphere of secrecy…” according to the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  To ensure citizens understand the procedures, the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council is holding workshops across the state.

The Northern Virginia workshop will be October 27, 8:30-2:30pm, at the Four Points by Sheraton Manassas Battlefield hotel.  Registration is $35, and includes both breakfast and lunch.

Years of planning; days of public notice: who protects property rights in Prince William?

The Wiita tract Master Plan meeting this week revealed the fatal flaw in the planning process for parks in Prince William: the key decisions are made in secret.

The Prince William County Park Authority made clear at the Master Plan input session on Tuesday night for the Wiita parcel that they’re going to build soccer fields there.  The only choice in the Master Plan process was deciding how many fields to build; no alternatives were going to be considered now.

The Park Authority and the Virginia Soccer Association revealed that the Wiita tract had been planned for a soccer complex for years, perhaps even before the county negotiated in 2005 and accepted in early 2006 the proffer for the Wellington Glen development.  Though there’s no mention in the proffer about soccer fields, the county agency has claimed “This parcel has been proffered to the county for the primary purpose of developing a soccer complex.”

The revelation of the soccer complex plans stunned the adjacent property owners.  The Park Authority’s Strategic Plan, the Park Authority’s own Comprehensive Plan, and publicly-available site plans had provided no information about the Wiita tract.  There was no way for the neighbors to know what was coming.  All the planning was done by the county Park Authority behind closed doors.
Continue reading