As debate continues over how to address local affordable housing challenges – and whether to develop the “rural crescent” – a 2019 recording has surfaced of a Republican Prince William supervisor saying that building more apartments in the county will hurt Republicans politically and result in fewer Republican votes.
The recording has already prompted a backlash from the Prince William Democratic Committee whose leaders say the statements made by Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, are comparable to “redlining” and segregationist tactics historically used to keep racial and ethnic minorities out of certain neighborhoods or areas.
Candland’s comments, published online on Sunday, March 14, by the blog “Blue Virginia,” were made about Ray’s Regarde, a development of 175 townhomes and 150 condominiums or apartments, approved by the board of county supervisors in March 2019. The recording was of a private discussion that took place several months after the project was approved.
“These Republicans are just slitting their own throats with approving these apartments,” Candland said. “When you put these apartments in, you’re not getting Joe Republican moving into these apartments. There’s a reason folks are not going to vote for you, and you wonder why the eastern end of the county has not just gone Democrat, it’s solidly blue.”
In the recording, Candland went on to say he hoped to balance the development of apartment complexes in the east side of the county by approving more expensive single-family homes in the western end of the county. The county’s western magisterial districts are currently represented by Republicans.
“If we can have some sort of balance moving forward where we can approve Scott Plein's project out in the western end where we’re building $600,000 homes and we want to continue building the apartments out on the eastern end, I’m fine with that kind of balance,” Candland said.
Members of the Prince William County Democratic Committee were quick to respond to Candland’s comments on Monday. Democratic Committee Chair LT Pridgen said in an email that his statements are “discriminatory, biased and unethical” and reveal the “real motivation” behind objections to new development in the western side of the county.
Pridgen said his assertions amount to "keep[ing] the poor with the poor and the wealthy with the wealthy” and are “a reflection of the systemic segregation in land-use policies that perpetuate economic, educational and social inequities.”
Samuel Chisholm, chairman of the Brentsville Democratic Committee, said in a statement Monday that the comments “wreak of redlining, segregationist philosophy, voter suppression [and] Jim Crow.”
“Land use policies are actually social policies, institutional constructs designed to keep poor and less upwardly mobile people in one area, thereby containing and restricting their vote and their voice, while amplifying the voices of the minority in more affluent pockets,” Chisholm said.
Tape leaked by developers
In an interview Monday, Candland defended his comments and called the recording’s release “gotcha politics.”
Candland also questioned the source and the timing of the recording’s release, saying the conversation occurred in the summer of 2019 at his office with two longtime county residents and developers, Maryann Ghadban and Page Snyder, who were pitching him on a proposal for a data center complex in the “rural crescent.”
Candland added that his voting record on the board of county supervisors shows he has supported the construction of townhomes and condos within the Gainesville District in the past, and that he has also voted to deny both apartment complexes and single-family home developments throughout the county.
“When you look at my record, I've opposed apartments, I've opposed million-dollar homes and I've opposed everything in between,” Candland said.
Candland said Monday he believes the developers, Snyder and Ghadban, are “trying to silence... and intimidate” him over his opposition to their project.
Snyder and Ghadban responded on Monday by saying they were initially “speechless” after hearing Candland’s comments during their meeting. In a joint interview, both said they decided to release the recording now, nearly two years later, because they felt his comments were “timely” given the ongoing debate over land-use in the county.
Ghadban and Snyder have pitched a plan to add an 800-acre data center complex adjacent to Manassas Battlefield Park in the Gainesville District. The proposal has only recently been made public, and Candland has since said he will fight the project “tooth and nail.”
Ghadban and Snyder have not yet submitted an application to rezone the land to allow for data centers. The project would be among the largest data center developments in the county but faces challenges because the county’s current land use rules do not allow any data centers in the rural area.
Candland maintained Monday that he would not back down from his opposition to any land use changes proposed for the county’s “rural crescent.”
“They see me as somebody who is standing in their way,” Candland said.
Tape released on eve of Independent Hill plan vote
The release of the recording comes amid rising tensions between Democrats and Republicans on the board of county supervisors over the Democratic majority’s willingness to change the county’s land use rules to allow for higher density development in some areas of the county and to potentially allow new industrial and commercial uses in the county’s designated rural area.
On Tuesday, the board is scheduled to vote on a controversial development plan for Independent Hill, which could allow a 41-acre parcel in the rural area to be developed for commercial uses and possibly a data center.
It also comes in the wake of a January 2021 report from the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia that found two-thirds of low-income Northern Virginians are "severely burdened" by the cost of housing, the highest among all large metropolitan areas in the country.
The average cost of a home in Prince William County rose to $415,000 this year.
Additionally, a McGuire Woods report, also from January, detailed the impacts of single-family zoning types on racial segregation across the commonwealth. The report states that restricting the density of housing in large portions of a locality drives up housing prices by constraining the housing stock and “creates regulatory barriers to housing affordability.”
Reach Daniel Berti and firstname.lastname@example.org