The Prince William Board of Supervisors rejected a measure Tuesday that would have killed proposals to allow cluster developments and sewer connections in parts of the county’s rural crescent as part of a plan to incentivize the preservation of large tracts of land.
The resolution, first introduced by Supervisors Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, and Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, at an Oct. 8 press conference, was voted down 5-3 during the board’s Oct. 15 meeting.
Only Candland, Lawson and Principi voted in favor of the measure, while Board Chairman Corey Stewart, R-At Large, and Supervisors Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan; Victor Angry, D-Neabsco; Maureen Caddigan, R-Potomac; and Mary Nohe, R-Coles, voted against it.
The debate over the measure prompted two large groups of residents to speak for and against it.
A group of about 20 farmers came to the board’s 2 p.m. meeting to oppose the resolution. At the evening meeting, about 40 county residents spoke in favor of it. Many wore T-shirts endorsed by the Prince William Conservation Alliance that said, “Smart growth not sprawl.”
The farmers, who said they live in the Gainesville and Brentsville districts, drove their tractors from as far as Haymarket to the McCoart building in Woodbridge. Some carried signs reading, “I farm. I vote.”
The farmers are part of the “Rural Crescent Preservation Coalition,” a group that backs the county’s rural crescent proposals and cluster developments, which are seen as a means to allow large landowners to sell land to developers at higher prices than they might fetch under current zoning restrictions.
Cluster developments would allow more homes to be built in some areas of the rural crescent provided the overall density does not exceed one home per one acre and that 60 percent of the development’s land be placed in a conservation easement.
The farmers said utilizing all the proposed tools – purchase and transfer of development rights as well as rural clusters – would enable the county to better protect open, undeveloped space.
One tractor displayed a banner that said, “Since Supervisors Candland and Lawson have been in office over 4,000 acres of farmland in the rural crescent have been developed.”
Dale House, a Brentsville farmer, landowner and president of the Rural Crescent Preservation Coalition, said the group decided to make the hour-long drive to the McCoart after hearing about the resolution proposed at last week’s press conference.
“When they announced that, we got fired up,” House said.
Jay Yankey, a Brentsville farmer in the county’s rural crescent, said 10-acre lots are “killing agriculture in Prince William County -- what’s left of it.”
“We need the full comprehensive package of tools. Jurisdictions that put the most tools in the toolbox are the most successful at accomplishing their goals of rural farmland preservation,” Yankey said.
Many of the residents who spoke at the evening meeting were critical of the county’s plans to change the rural crescent policy and worried the new plans would favor developers rather than preserve open space. Many said expanding residential building in the rural area would exacerbate traffic congestion, school overcrowding and overburden the county’s first responders.
Others felt the county had left rural crescent residents out of the planning process and that supervisors, county staff and the planning commission were not listening to residents’ concerns.
Kim Hosen, executive director of the Prince William Conservation Alliance, said the county’s “process had been disrespectful to citizens.”
Lawson's resolution, introduced by the three supervisors Oct. 8, would have directed county staff to stop “any and all efforts” toward rural clustering and transfer of development rights proposals to allow only the proposed purchase of development rights program to move forward.
Candland amended the resolution before the vote to allow county staff to continue studying a TDR program provided that receiving areas for development rights be restricted to areas outside the rural crescent and near transit hubs.
Candland said the aim of the amended proposal was to allow some TDRs but eliminate the extension of public sewer lines into the rural crescent to ensure development “happens in the right places.”
“We’re not getting Metro to Prince William County unless we have a housing strategy that actually directs density to these transportation areas, these high-capacity areas,” Candland said. “Opening up the rural crescent for further development just extends any opportunity to bring Metro out to Prince William County even further down the line.”
Principi said the proposal would “send a clear message to the residential development community that sprawl and crawl is not acceptable to us as citizens of Prince William County.”
“Let’s instead direct our residential development to locations like North Woodbridge and other town centers in the form of mixed-use, smart-growth, transit-minded development. That’s where it belongs,” Principi said.
Anderson, a frequent ally of Candland’s and Lawson’s on most issues, said she was caught off-guard and had not had time to vet the resolution and therefore could not vote in its favor.
“I take every vote very seriously,” Anderson said. “It hasn’t been vetted to my level of knowledge.”
Anderson said there were aspects of the county’s proposed plan for the rural crescent that she is in favor of and some she “seriously” questions. But she said she is in favor of letting the full review process play out.
“I want to hear the planning commission debate this. They need their opportunity to tear this thing apart,” Anderson said.
Angry said he also wanted to see the planning process run its course.
“I trust my planning commission. I trust the planners. I trust the process,” Angry said. “I would like to see how it all plays out at the end and go from there.”
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 county 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 could also send as many as 3,400 “development rights” to more populated areas of the county.
The Prince William County Planning Commission will hold a work session on the full rural preservation plan on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at the McCoart building. The work session, which is open to the public, begins at 6 p.m.
Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org