Supervisors cry foul over fairways plan

County officials got their first glimpse Tuesday of proposed changes in the zoning laws that would allow golf course communities anywhere in Prince William.

Currently, these communities are only allowed in specific development areas, not in the Rural Crescent unless they are smaller in size. The Rural Crescent is an 80,000-acre rural preserve of 10-acre lots in western Prince William that county officials hoped would act as a buffer against high-density development.

The proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment and zoning change was requested by Supervisor Ed Wilbourn, R-Gainesville, last year.

Wilbourn, a general contractor, has envisioned a premier 72-hole golf course community in the west. However, county planners said they have not seen any drafts.

Questions from some board members Tuesday suggested the proposal may be headed for trouble. Supervisor Ruth Griggs, R-Occoquan, voiced her complaint, saying if the county is looking for high-end development, efforts should be pumped into areas where it is already allowed, not the Rural Crescent. Such communities are technically allowed there now but only on smaller lots. Experts said the communities are more conducive to high-end development.

County planners said last year they wanted to attract high-end housing and tax benefits — but in areas already planned for dense development.

In March, the board started the process of altering the Comprehensive Plan and passing zoning amendments that would help bring Wilbourn’s golf course wish to fruition. The first step was to have Edaw Inc., an Alexandria-based consulting firm, study golf course communities.

The $70,000 study, presented to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, studied 11 golf courses in Virginia and Maryland.

One of the main conclusions was that the courses work best with both small and large housing lots on them.

“It’s not easy to pull one of these off because they change hands before anyone makes any money,” one consultant said.

Most communities range from 1,000 to 3,000 acres in size, said Edaw’s Rick Meyers. Most include more than 1,000 homes, and most are connected to water and sewer, a provision that concerned Board Chairman Sean Connaughton, R-at large.

Opponents of development of the Rural Crescent have complained that installing water and sewer there will lead to further development.

“That means 10 times more cars, 10 times more roads, 10 times more schools and more trips burdening the system.” Griggs said. “Just so we can get a golf course community. Why would we do this?”

Wilbourn said his reason for pushing for the study was economics. “They are economically viable,” he said. Heritage Hunt and the Piedmont communities, which both have golf courses, “are selling at a premium of $150,000,” he said.

The proposal is expected to be presented to the Planning Commission in November and come back to the board in December.

Staff writer Diane Freda can be reached at (703) 878-4723.

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