Tweaking to begin on county growth document

County lawmakers and planners will come together again Tuesday to hash out ideas for updating the county’s 1998 comprehensive plan.

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors and the county Planning Commission will consider 47 proposals generated during their last joint meeting in December, ranging from abolishing sector plans to establishing guidelines for developers to contribute money to build new police stations.

Also at issue is whether to extend water and sewer services to the pristine Rural Crescent. That proposal, which could pave the way for new housing subdivisions, has sparked the ire of protectionists who want to keep the 80,000 acres of land in Western Prince William free of high-density development.

The comprehensive plan is a blueprint for long-range development, governing land use in various classifications.

Determining the type of development to be allowed and where it is to occur was controversial in 1998 when the plan was updated. By law it must be updated every five years.

One proposal being considered is to add a new public-safety chapter to address land-use issues related to police.

“We’re getting zero for police now,” said Supervisor Ruth T. Griggs, R-Occoquan. While developers can offer cash, land or other improvements, known as proffers, to mitigate the effects of their developments on schools, transportation, and libraries, under the existing plan, there is no provision for effects on public safety.

Some Planning Commission members want other issues relating to proffers strengthened.

“We would like to establish that when you get into an ‘F’ level of service, it could mean no more development until that level is changed,” said Coles District Commissioner Stephen C. Ryner. Currently, an F is the lowest category for maintaining an acceptable level in categories such as traffic congestion and fire-and-rescue response times. Ryner wants those requirements to be consistent throughout the plan.

Another proposal would extend water and sewer services to the Rural Crescent. That area was set up in the 1998 plan for low densities of only one house per 10 acres. Supervisor L. Ben Thompson, R-Brentsville, questioned whether Vint Hill Road is included in the Crescent. That may also be studied.

But the supervisors will have some whittling to do. If each of the 47 issues were given a staff analysis, it would take 3,350 to 5,000 hours to complete. But only 1,600 hours are available to get the plan to a citizens’ advisory committee by September, according to a Jan. 2 memo from Planning Director Rick Lawson to supervisors.

An 18-month accelerated deadline was set by the board in July. The project will begin in January and end by August 2003, the board decided. With that time frame in mind, not all the proposals can be tackled, County Executive Craig Gerhart said.

Board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, R-at large, suggested eliminating sector plans, which set up citizens’ committees to study particular areas. But the committees themselves have often fought with problems, including allegations of conflicts of interest among those who are appointed to them.

“Sector plans have become very controversial without much benefit,” Connaughton said. “A sector plan is a mini-comprehensive plan, so if we do the plan review effectively, we won’t need sector plans.”

Lawson said that some sector plans have been focused, useful and contributed to coordinated development. He cited the Nokesville sector plan, only a year old, which shows promise of accomplishing its goals. “The question now is if the energy that goes into them is a useful expenditure of resources,” he said.

Other proposals include reviewing slivers of land that have been rezoned over time and don’t fit with their surrounding areas, adding an action strategy to encourage high-quality office development, and defining appearance criteria for heavily traveled roads.

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

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