The Prince William Board of County Supervisors will consider a 102-home development proposed for the county’s designated rural area next Tuesday that has drawn sharp opposition from local conservationists and Republican board members and could signal the new board’s plans for the “rural crescent."
The development, known as “The Preserve at Long Branch,” would remove 166 acres from the county’s designated rural area, known as the “rural crescent,” and rezone the land to allow for construction of 102 homes on lots of between one and four acres. Under the county’s current rural area policy, which allows only one home per 10 acres, 33 homes are permitted to be built on the 339-acre property.
In June, the Prince William County Planning Commission recommended denial of the both the comprehensive plan amendment and rezoning required for the project. The developer for the proposed buildout, Mark Granville-Smith, has since reduced the number of houses in the application from 118 to 102.
The project also includes plans to give 175 undeveloped acres of the property to Prince William County for public parkland with a trail and non-motorized boat access to the Occoquan River.
While the 102-home development is currently not allowed by-right in the rural area, that could change in the coming months as the board of supervisors moves toward implementing new rural area policies to be included in the county’s long-range planning document, known as the comprehensive plan.
Republican board members and local conservationists say they want to delay the vote on “The Preserve at Long Branch” until after those new rural area policies have been set in place.
“If the rural area and the rural study is going to be a point of discussion, then we need to let that play out. We need to have that conversation before we approve the Preserve at Long Branch or any other project that they’re asking for these types of approvals from the board,” Coles District Supervisor Yesli Vega (R) said on Monday.
The Prince William County Rural Preservation Study, published in 2014, outlined numerous recommendations to improve the county’s rural area policy. The previous county board delayed taking action on any of the study’s recommendations. The new board will likely begin discussing those changes later this year or in early 2021.
Kim Hosen, executive director of the Prince William Conservation Alliance, said that it was “disappointing” that the county had not yet followed through with the implementation of rural area incentives.
“We certainly hope that, instead of approving additional housing and public sewer and setting the precedent for increased residential densities and industrial uses in the rural area, that first we would go back and put in those incentives,” Hosen said.
Board members who are in favor of keeping the county’s current rural area policy have also raised concerns that approving "The Preserve at Long Branch” would signal the new board’s willingness to increase residential densities in the rural area. The county elected five new supervisors, and a Democratic majority, in 2019.
The three Republican board members have so far been in favor of keeping new development out of the rural area, while the board’s five Democrats have been less clear in their views.
If the Preserve at Long Branch rezoning and comprehensive amendments area approved by the new board, it would be a signal to the development community “that their vision of the rural area is open for more dense residential development,” said Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville.
“The implication is that they are going to set a precedent for the development community,” Lawson said.
Lawson is in favor of keeping the current rural area policy of one home per 10 acres. Lawson said that increasing development in the rural area would drive up infrastructure costs for the county because new development requires the construction of new roads, utilities and schools.
“You can’t approve of these cluster communities and then not improve the road infrastructure to get to and from them and the levels of service they would require,” Lawson said.
Wheeler: Development not 'the defining moment' for the rural area
Prince William County at-large board Chair Ann Wheeler said last Friday, however, that she does not believe that approval of the rezoning in the rural area would “open the floodgates” to similar amendments in the rural area.
“Given that we haven’t really talked about the rural preservation study or reviewed the comprehensive plan’s land use section, I don’t really see this as the defining moment of the rural area,” Wheeler said. “I think [developers] are waiting to see the comprehensive plan and where we’re going as a county before they make any major moves.”
Wheeler added that she is open to considering new policies in the rural area in the future and that “preserving the rural area hasn’t gone as well as it could have over the last 20 years when we’ve seen so many large farms chopped up into 10-acre lots.”
“I think there are better ways to preserve open space, as well as open space that the entire community has access to,” Wheeler said.
Supervisor Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan, has acted as a swing vote on the new board, occasionally siding with the board’s three Republicans on land use cases. Boddye has said in the past that he supports the county’s current rural area policy.
Boddye said during his campaign for Occoquan supervisor that he “fully supports preserving the rural crescent how it stands.” Boddye did not return phone calls and emails requesting comment for this article.
Reach Daniel Berti at email@example.com