Grassroots activists battling an asphalt plant planned for Manassas breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday morning after a marathon meeting ended with the Prince William Board of County Supervisors rejecting the $14 million project.
After waiting five hours for a vote, dozens of people who opposed the project streamed into the parking lot outside the James J. McCoart building to celebrate just after midnight.
“Everyone in these communities can feel a little bit of ease,” said Marc Castrovinci, a father of two and a resident of the Blackburn community. “I really hope the county can see this as an opportunity to pick the right type of businesses for this area.”
Jean Paisley, 60, of the Kessler Ridge Community, said she was glad the board had finally listened to residents' concerns about the asphalt plant’s potential environmental impacts. Paisley suffers from asthma. Her home would have been fewer than 2,000 feet from the site of the proposed asphalt plant.
“For those of us who are older, who have health issues, we wanted to make sure it was the environment[al impacts] we were looking at on this project,” Paisely said.
After an hour of heated debate, the board ultimately voted 5-3 against the special use permit that paving company Allan Myers needed to build the asphalt plant. Republican supervisors led the opposition to the project, while several of the board’s Democrats pushed for approval after Myers agreed to several concessions.
In a last ditch effort for approval, the company offered to pay for a cut-through road to eliminate dump truck traffic in the communities closest to the plant; to pay for a sound wall on Bethlehem Road and to contribute $250,000 to Prince William County schools.
At-large board Chair Ann Wheeler (D), who voted in favor of the project, said that with those concessions, it “actually leaves the neighborhood better off than when they found it.”
“The applicant has bent over backwards to work with and try to mitigate some of the concerns, especially the traffic,” Wheeler said.
Supervisor Victor Angry, D-Neabsco, also voted in favor of the asphalt plant. Angry said he wanted to make it a “win-win” for both county residents and the applicant.
“If we can get the trucks off that road, to me that was mitigating the concern,” Angry said. “We really have to make the decisions that are right for the whole of the county.”
The county board’s Republican minority mounted a fierce opposition to the asphalt plant. Supervisors Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, accused the Democratic supervisors of acting hypocritically by expressing concerns about inequities in the county while supporting the new asphalt plant, which would have been located in a mostly minority and economically disadvantaged area of Manassas.
The asphalt plant would have been built just 1,400 feet from Mullen Elementary School, whose students are predominantly Black and Hispanic, with many coming from economically disadvantaged families, according to school division data.
“This would be an absolute travesty for this board of supervisors to talk about equity, to talk about the little guy, to talk about minority communities, and then to spit in their eye with an asphalt plant,” Candland said. “... You’re not the one that has to live there.”
Several local environmental groups published an letter to the editor in the Prince William Times on Monday, Sept. 7, that expressed opposition to the asphalt plant based on concerns about its adverse impacts to minority communities.
Lawson said some of the Democrats on the board claim “to be the environmentalists” who stick up “for the little guy.” But added: “When it comes to these major land use votes they always opt for … the interests of big business.”
“If they really care about the environment, if they really care about Prince William County residents, their votes do not match their words,” Lawson said.
Ultimately, two Democrats joined the Republicans to kill the project. Voting to deny the permit were the board's three Republicans: Candland, Lawson, and Supervisor Yesli Vega, Coles; and Democratic Supervisors Kenny Boddye, Occoquan, and Margaret Franklin, Woodbridge.
Franklin flipped her vote from approval to disapproval after an initial motion to approve the permit died in a 4-4 tie.
Mike Coffey, a Kessler Ridge resident who helped organize community opposition to the asphalt plant, praised the board’s Republican supervisors for standing with the residents.
“They stood fast with us. They said the right things. They motivated their other supervisors, and we won,” Coffey said.
Coffey was among the many residents living in the communities adjacent the proposed asphalt plant who spent weeks contacting and informing his neighbors and nearby communities about the project. Their biggest concerns were that the asphalt plant would create an intolerable traffic situation and result in long-term health impacts among nearby residents.
“It took a community effort with multiple communities coming together in order to make this happen,” Coffey said. “It really demonstrates, after all these months, what we can do when we put our minds together and work together.”
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