Pete Candland, Frank Principi and Jeanine Lawson rural crescent resolution press conference

Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, speaks about a resolution that seeks to put the brakes on proposed zoning changes for the rural crescent. Lawson introduced the resolution Oct. 8 with Supervisors Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge.

Three county supervisors want to suspend several new proposals for the county’s rural crescent aimed at preserving large tracts of land while allowing some additional residential development. But as of Friday, the measure appeared to lack the five votes needed to pass.

Supervisors Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, introduced the resolution in a press conference Tuesday, Oct. 8. The measure calls on county staff to stop “any and all efforts” on the proposed rural clustering and transfer of development rights proposals included in the county staff’s recommendations for the rural area.

The supervisors’ resolution would direct county staff to continue only their review of the proposed “purchase of development rights” program. A PDR program would enable the county to use tax dollars or federal and state grant monies to pay large-tract landowners to expire their development rights and put their properties in conservation easements.

The board will vote on the resolution at its next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 15.  It will need five votes in favor to take effect. So far, no other supervisors have stated their support for the plan. 

During a candidates’ forum Thursday, Supervisor Ruth Anderson, who generally votes in concert with Candland and Lawson, said she believes the staff’s plan for the rural crescent needs to “go through its normal processes.” 

“This new plan needs to be heard by the planning commission,” Anderson said. 

The 117,000-acre rural crescent, which arcs around the county’s north and western boundaries, is currently home to about 27,000 people. Current rules, established in 1998, limit residential building to one home per 10 acres and prohibit connections to the county’s public sewer line as a means of putting the brakes on residential sprawl. 

The staff’s proposal could add as many as 475 more homes to the 2,700 that could be built in the rural crescent “by right” under current zoning rules. The staff plan would also send about 3,400 “development rights” to more populated areas of the county.

Supervisors called for a review of the policy in 2013 and hired a consultant to make recommendations aimed at preserving larger tracts of land. The supervisors, however, have delayed taking action since the rural area study was completed in 2014.

On Tuesday, Candland, Lawson and Principi said new development should be directed outside the rural crescent with a focus on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ adopted goals and recommendationsfor future growth.

MWCOG, a regional planning group, has recommended that local governments place 75% of future housing near high-capacity transit or in areas where there is a concentration of commercial uses and access to mass transit. The plan pinpointed Gainesville, the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park, Innovation Park, Potomac Shores and North Woodbridge as recommended areas for future housing development in Prince William County. 

“With growth as the constant here in Prince William County, none of us are proposing that we stick our head in the sand and that we ignore it, or that we try to stop it,” Principi said. “Rather we need to redirect it based on our policies and our budget choices in a way that is smart, that is mixed use and not just residential.”

Principi said the North Woodbridge “small area plan,” which the board approved Tuesday evening, is the “antidote” to increased residential development in the rural crescent, as it directs development in a more appropriate area than the rural crescent.

The North Woodbridge plan paves the way to add between 9,800 and 13,945 dwelling units – mostly apartments and townhomes -- by 2040. The plan envisions adding between 27,000 and about 40,000 residents over the next two decades.

“We think the more appropriate area for development is North Woodbridge, not the rural crescent. We need to do a better job of protecting the rural character of our community, the local economy, the environmental threats posed by additional residential development,” Principi said. 

Candland, whose Gainesville district encompasses large swaths of the county’s rural area, said the county’s attempts to increase residential development in the rural crescent would, “make traffic and classroom overcrowding worse in every part of Prince William County.” 

Candland suggested recent efforts to change the rural crescent policy are connected to campaign donations from developers to local candidates. 

“Politicians have allowed developers and their campaign contributions to control county policy and influence board decisions,” Candland said. “We see candidates today on both sides of the aisle who value campaign cash over protecting the people they wish to serve.” 

Current at-large Board Chairman Corey Stewart (R) received more than $1 million in campaign contributions from real estate and construction industry donors since being elected in 2007, money he used to fuel his unsuccessful campaigns for Virginia governor and U.S. Senate. Stewart announced in January that he would not seek reelection this year. 

Lawson, whose Brentsville district also encompasses large tracts of rural area, said the county’s, “recommendations contain changes that would impact residents countywide, clog roads, further overcrowd schools and overburden police and fire.” 

“Developing the rural crescent not only destroys our green space but takes financial resources away from other parts of the county,” Lawson said. 

Mark Granville-Smith, a developer who would like to build in the rural crescent, called the supervisors proposal to suspend the study of rural cluster and transfer of development rights programs “completely irresponsible.” 

Granville-Smith is part of the Rural Crescent Preservation Coalition, a “group of concerned citizens” who back the county’s rural crescent proposals. The coalition says utilizing all the proposed tools – PDRs, TDR, and rural clusters – will enable the county to better protect open, undeveloped space. 

“We fully support PDRs as one of the options. We support a full toolbox which would include TDRs and rural cluster with the use of sewer,” Granville-Smith said. “What we would like to see is how we intend to fund the PDR program.” 

The PDR program would require the supervisors to designate funding to purchase development rights, which the board has yet to do.  

“You’re talking about a single policy to promote open space with no funding,” Granville-Smith said. “I absolutely feel like you need a full toolbox, and the PDR [program] is one. But we really need to see where the money is coming from.”

Reach Daniel Berti at dberti@fauquier.com

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