Supervisor Ruth T. Griggs, R-Occoquan, attacked the stores last week saying they too often turn into a community blight after retailers move out, leaving their stores empty.
Last week, she asked the Board of County Supervisors to consider changing the zoning laws to prohibit stores such as Home Depot, Lowe’s and Ames from moving to the county if they are more than 60,000 square feet in size. Anything more than 25,000 square feet would have required a special use permit.
A majority of board members rejected that idea Tuesday, but did approve an amendment to begin the process of changing the zoning laws. Under the proposal, big box stores of more than 60,000 square feet would be allowed to locate in the county, but only if they are in a regional mall or replacing existing retail space.
This would accommodate Lowe’s, which is moving from a 105,000-square-foot building on Prince William Parkway to a 175,000-square-foot store less than a mile away on Minnieville Road. That is the type of development the board wants to encourage, some members said.
The vote was 4-4 on that proposal, with Griggs, Dumfries Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan, at-large chairman Sean T. Connaughton and Coles District Supervisor Mary K. Hill, all Republicans, voting for the measure. Supervisors John D. Jenkins, D-Neabsco, L. Ben Thompson, R-Brentsville, Hilda M. Barg, D-Woodbridge, and Edgar S. Wilbourn III, R-Gainesville, voted against it. Any tie vote fails.
Barg offered a substitute amendment that directed the staff to come back with recommendations on where to set the size limits above which the stores will be required to get a special use permit. That amendment passed 6-2.
Wilbourn has already said he believes 25,000 square feet is too low. There is a limit at which a special use permit might be acceptable, he said, but that isn’t it.
“People are paying taxes on the buildings whether they are full or empty,” he said, and the county should not be enacting legislation that isn’t business-friendly.
Jenkins was the strongest critic. “This is bad legislation trying to take the place of capitalization,” he said. The county shouldn’t be interfering with the free markets, he said.
Hill defended the existing laws saying if the county hadn’t had retail, it wouldn’t have attracted General Dynamics to the Incredible Universe building in Woodbridge. “We need ready class A office space,” she said. Nevertheless she was the swing vote on the measure that moved consideration of limits forward.
Taxes paid on the Incredible Universe Building remained about the same from 1996 to 2002, roughly $153,000, whether it was occupied or not, Thompson pointed out. The building was vacant for six years.
In a related matter, the board also agreed to craft wording for a public facilities review ordinance that would fit into the county’s existing land use program.
Public facilities review legislation is a hot topic at the General Assembly this year, with seven bills working their way through the legislature.
They require that infrastructure, such as roads and schools, be in place before development occurs as a way to control growth.
The wording is expected to be available in two days, and will then be circulated to the board for a possible vote Feb. 4.
Although that may not allow enough time to influence this year’s raft of bills, supervisors said it’s a start.