The public debate over a planned Hooters restaurant in the eastern end of Prince William County underscores a basic concern with zoning identified by the Urban Land Institute and others: Though some development may be deemed undesirable by some, current zoning laws make it nonetheless legitimate.
And as the types of business some don’t want in the county arrive, the types of business they do want to attract namely more offices are staying away.
On Tuesday, Supervisor Ruth T. Griggs, R-Occoquan, announced to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors her intention to initiate a change to the zoning code that would require that office space be the primary use of county land zoned “office flex,” “low-rise,” “mid-rise” and “high-rise office.”
Hooters, a full-service restaurant featuring scantily clad waitresses, is planning to build along the Prince William Parkway in Woodbridge in land zoned as office flex.
“If I zone something office, I don’t expect people to come in and want a bank, a restaurant or a copy shop,” Griggs said. “I expect them to want a [two- or three-story office building]. Lots of times we’re not getting what we’re expecting in these zoning categories.”
Some supervisors have said they prefer new county tenants to be those bringing high-quality office space, which also attracts jobs, and ultimately housing. Under Griggs’ proposal, restaurants and banks would still be allowed, but only in conjunction with an office building not as the primary use of the property.
Griggs is opposed to Hooters, saying it isn’t the type of business that is needed at the entrance to Prince William County. Members of LOCCA PELT the Lake Ridge, Occoquan, Coles Civic Association Planning, Environment, Land Use and Transportation Committee which reviews area projects and works with developers and builders on plans and design, is also fighting the project for the same reason.
Bill Pernell, director of construction for Hooters in Smyrna, Ga., did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.
Griggs’ proposal to change the zoning has already garnered some support from the board.
Supervisor Hilda M. Barg, D-Woodbridge, who has consistently said the county needs more high-quality office development, said she thinks it might be a good idea.
“The main thing it does is assure that we get the office instead of the other uses,” Barg said. Too often the office proposals aren’t forthcoming, while the other uses are.
The board will discuss Griggs’ proposal at its Aug. 6 meeting; Supervisor L. Ben Thompson, R-Brentsville, for one, has indicated he is opposed to amending the zoning code.
Zoning concerns predate the Hooters situation by many years and extend to other zoning categories. The zoning code has not been updated since 1991, Griggs said, and needs to reflect the kind of development the county now seeks.
Inappropriate zoning was an issue in the Urban Land Institute’s assessment of what ails U.S. 1.
“Some of the retail that is there is really quite functionally obsolete and one of our suggestions was to prune back some of the retail-zoned land so there’s a balance between the market for retail and the amount of space,” said David Leland a managing director with Leland Consulting Group in Portland, Ore., who participated in the team’s visit to Prince William County earlier this year.
When the developers of Southbridge allowed a Wal-Mart to locate in front of their community two months ago, those who opposed it had no grounds for opposition because the zoning was allowed under county code. The property was zoned commercial, which allowed for that retail use, even though it sat in front of an upscale housing development on the Potomac River.
When the uses are allowed by right, not requiring a special exception or approval from the Planning Commission or supervisors, such as those currently under the office categories, the planning department has no grounds to reject a project if it meets minimum building and design standards, county planners said. Changing the code is the only recourse.