Development committee calls for housing

A committee charged with updating the county’s 1998 comprehensive plan will be recommending that more housing be allowed in semi-rural residential areas if the proper environmental concessions are in place.

However, some critics of the plan said what will be proposed to the planning commission on Wednesday night is a back-door way of allowing higher housing densities when that was never a main focus of this year’s update.

“The [Prince William] Board of County Supervisors sat down a year ago and made a list of things that needed to be reviewed in the update and listed 23 things they wanted to address,” said Susan Ascencio, a resident who lives in midcounty and follows development issues. “None had anything to do with changing the densities.”

The comprehensive plan is a countywide blueprint for development that outlines the type of building sought in various zoned areas. State law requires that it be updated every five years.

The 24-member citizens advisory committee crafting the update voted last week to allow builders to go beyond the average 2.5 units per acre of allowable housing in semi-rural areas — if developers agree to concessions such as tree-saving, buffers, and minimal clearing of the land.

Currently developers aren’t required to lessen environmental impacts beyond what a design-standards manual requires, said Clancy McQuigg, a committee member.

Under the proposed plan, developers would be required to outline their environmental concessions up front when site plans are first submitted.

McQuigg voted for the change in semi-rural areas because trade-offs were put in place to encourage developers to build where they are willing to install county water and sewer hookups. Instead of cutting down large tracks of environmentally sensitive land to build in areas where septic tanks are required, developers would be encouraged to focus on urban areas where other development already exists, he said.

“A majority of the committee decided the environmental gain of bringing sewer and water in and hand clearing the lots was worth a few extra lots in the semi-rural area,” McQuigg said.

Semi-rural areas in the county were designed to act as important buffers between the rural crescent — a 100,000 acre swath of land preserved for large rural estates — and the developments area and all other areas of the county where higher density development is allowed.

Mainly it is the middle of the county north of Hoadly Road and east of Va. 234, with smaller slices north of Haymarket and west of the city of Manassas. Most of the area has already been developed.

Ascencio said she is unconvinced the committee’s environmental provisions will strengthen the existing requirements. She said developers have traditionally built to the maximum limits. “Twenty-five applications have been submitted for building on 600 acres off Hoadly Road since the 1998 comprehensive plan was enacted and 24 went with 2.5 acres,” she said. “I’m concerned about managing growth.

The planning commission gets its first look at the proposed comprehensive plan update and several other recommendations Wednesday. It will then make a recommendation to the Board of County Supervisors which will have the final say about what is amended.

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