The Prince William Board of County Supervisors rejected recommendations Tuesday to resurrect the bi-county parkway and expand the county’s data center overlay district as part of an economic development plan aimed at boosting a local economy.
The policy recommendations were part of a $6 million package proposed by the county’s department of economic development and a special economic recovery task force created to devise ideas to spur the county’s economic recovery. The task force, formed in April, consisted of 42 business leaders representing a wide range of industries as well as representatives from the county’s business partners, according to a county staff report.
The bulk of the policy proposals the task force recommended were left out of the resolution the supervisors approved Tuesday, including proposals to consider adding the bi-county parkway back to the county’s comprehensive plan and to expand the county’s data center overlay district.
The board unanimously approved $6 million in new economic development programming funded with $5 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and $1 million from the county’s economic development opportunity fund. The money would be used for new business start-up grants, money for construction and renovation incentives, small business technical assistance and workforce reskilling and transition, among other things.
The bi-county parkway is a controversial proposed 10.4-mile, north-south road that would connect Prince William County and the City of Manassas with Loudoun County and the Dulles Corridor. It was first introduced in 2005 but was removed from Prince William County’s comprehensive plan in 2016, effectively killing it.
Supervisors said they were surprised by the policy proposal directing staff to consider adding the bi-county parkway back into the comprehensive plan, which was included near the end of a lengthy staff report dispatched ahead of the meeting.
Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, said she was concerned that the economic recovery task force had been “hijacked” by real estate development interests who stand to benefit from the construction of the bi-county parkway. Lawson said it appeared that real estate developers on the task force had attempted to “sneak through” the controversial road project.
Lawson said she will likely submit a FOIA to find out “how this task force got hijacked by a bunch of real estate development interests.”
Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, said he did not initially notice the suggestion about the parkway in the staff report but said its discovery caused “everyone to freak out. I think that’s the technical term,” Candland quipped.
More seriously, Candland noted that the bi-county parkway “was an issue that consumed Prince William County for years,” as residents repeatedly voiced their opposition to what he called “a truck route from route 50 to I-95.”
Supervisor Margaret Franklin began the discussion by clarifying the suggestion to reconsider the bi-county parkway was made by the task force, not the board, adding: “It’s not something we support.”
Christina Winn, the county’s economic development director, apologized the board at the start of her presentation that the staff report included the suggestion to reconsider the bi-county parkway and that the staff report wasn’t clear the suggestion came from the task force.
“I apologize to you as a board and to the citizens of Prince William County for this confusion and this angst,” Winn said.
The department of economic development has developed a number of initiatives aimed at boosting the local economy since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic using funds awarded to the county via the CARES Act.
Winn said the county has so far distributed about $3 million in CARES Act funds to small businesses in the county as part of its “Small Business Relief Micro Grant” program, which was launched in soon after the county received $41 million in federal relief money. By law, the county must spend its CARES Act money by Dec. 30.