County passes big retail center near Haymarket

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors made no surprises Tuesday when it passed a rezoning of 102 acres west of Haymarket to allow 230,000 square feet of big box retail and smaller stores along the northwest quadrant of U.S. 15 and Va. 55 south of Interstate 66.

After passing the Gainesville sector plan and its 2.5 million additional square feet of retail, the “Gang of Five,” as they’ve been dubbed by slow-growthers, overruled the negative votes of Supervisors Maureen S. Caddigan, R-Dumfries; Sean T. Connaughton, R-at-large; and Ruth T. Griggs, R-Occoquan.

Voting for the rezoning were Supervisors Hilda M. Barg, D-Woodbridge; Mary K. Hill, R-Coles; John D. Jenkins, D-Neabsco; L. Ben Thompson, R-Brentsville; and Edgar S. Wilbourn, R-Gainesville.

Landservices Inc. won the transfer of retail rights in the area from an office park development to the west that it owns but has not been able to market for several years the 118-acre Midwood properties. The transfer creates a “critical mass” of retail concentrated at what will be called the Market Center, said attorney Michael Lubeley.

A second phase would put 500 homes and 750,000 square feet of offices north of I-66.

Only three residents spoke against the plan, one man wondering why he even showed up to speak given he has lost so many fights.

“I feel real sorry being here. But I’m doing it for what it’s worth. I’m just really tired,” said James Price of Gainesville.

Wilbourn said the deciding factor is the transportation improvements that will come before even one store opens.

Landservices Inc. will pay the county $4.7 million in proffer money to offset costs in schools, fire and rescue, police and other infrastructure. The first phase of development is the retail center along the northern part of Va. 55 west of Haymarket, but before it is occupied the intersection of U.S. 15 and Va. 55 will be upgraded.

Thompson said the board should not question the recommendation by the planning commission and county staff to approve.

Retail is considered a secondary use in such an employment center, and therefore it and other secondary uses will make up less than 25 percent of the total uses in Midwood and Market Center, staff said. Office is the primary use and 1.7 million square feet of it would be in the Midwood properties.

Griggs said the point of secondary uses is to support the primary office uses, not act as a regional destination. And the code could not be more clear for a regional employment center, she pointed out: “The development shall occur according to a phasing plan.”

That means big box retail, the largest slated to be 100,000 square feet, does not fit

Griggs said the big boxes that will come to the Market Center, the largest slated to be 100,000 square feet, does not fit with the intended use for a regional employment center.

She pressed Lubeley for what kind of big box retail do they have in mind, would it be a Home Depot or a Lowe’s. He said those would be too big.

“You have no idea who you want to be the user?” she asked.

“No, we don’t know,” Lubeley said.

“That’s the whole point of [a regional employment center]. That’s why the phasing is as it is and the retail is meant to be supportive of the employment uses, not regional in and of themselves,” Griggs said.

“With all due respect, I would disagree with that analysis in light of targeting a [regional employment center] at an interstate,” Lubeley said. The bulk of traffic on Va. 55 is pass-through traffic, he said. The retail in Market Center will support the office uses to come to Midwood, he said.

The staff report did not fault the lack of phasing of development but instead states the plan phases in public improvements and amenities; it controls distribution of uses with set limits.

Hill said she was confused over whether a regional employment center should be phased, and since it was not cleared up for her by staff, she said she would defer to their recommendation since they are the professionals.

Wilbourn said by concentrating the retail, a higher quality of stores can be brought in, rather than just dry cleaners and delis.

The total uses for Midwood and Market Center: 3.8 million square feet for office, 422,800 square feet of retail, and 725,000 square feet of housing.

Traffic is bad and this development will only make it worse, said Elena Schlossberg-Kunkel of the Thunder Oak subdivision, representing Advocates for the Rural Crescent.

“We escaped to the rural crescent and this area because we had faith that Prince William County treasured quality of life and had learned to develop smartly,” she said. The developer keeps saying the U.S. 15/Va. 15 intersection is already failing, but what the plan will do is make it ten times worse, she said.

Hill said the rest of the county cannot support no growth in the west.

“The rural crescent is great, but the people in my district are starting to feel the pressure. It pushes things east,” Hill said.

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.

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