Seeing red over greens

Rural Crescent activists are preparing for a fight when Prince William County Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III presents a proposed amendment to allow golf-course communities anywhere in the county.

Under the current comprehensive plan, golf course communities are allowed in A-1 (agricultural), residential and certain mixed-use districts, but fewer houses are allowed and a special-use permit is required.

Wilbourn proposes to create a new zoning category called golf-course communities (GCC). It would allow fairways countywide and at an average of one house per acre — significantly more density than in current zoning categories. The housing may also be clustered.

Opponents say that the proposal is aimed directly at the Rural Crescent — an 80,000-acre preserve in the western end of the county set aside for country estates on 10-acre lots. There, only one unit is permitted per 10 acres.

Those against Rural Crescent development are expected to line the Prince William County Planning Commission chambers when it takes up the issue Jan. 30. A public hearing and vote are scheduled.

“This is a direct attack on minimum 10-acre zoning in the Rural Crescent,” said Irving Sptizberg, spokesman for Advocates for the Rural Crescent.

“Open space for a golf-course community does not translate to one house in 10 acres. If you impose that on a golf-course community it won’t be economically viable.”

A $70,000 county study of golf-course communities by Alexandria consulting firm EDAW Inc. found that existing golf-course communities in Virginia and Maryland do involve higher densities. In the 11 communities studied, densities ranged from one unit per 3 acres to four units per acre.

Golf-course communities with only large residential lots are not likely to be financially feasible, EDAW said. The most successful ones have a range of unit types and sizes.

Furthermore, the study said that most people who live in golf-courses communities don’t play golf, so the courses should be open to the public. But there is enough financial base in Prince William to make them work, EDAW said.

“There is a definite market for them,” said Wilbourn. “They create an upscale community that is needed. They add open space. They offer security, quality of life and less demand on roads.”

Wilbourn’s amendment sets high standards for the communities, including at least 300 acres of land and at least one USGA Championship 18-hole golf course. Golf clubhouses, swimming pools, fitness centers and other recreational amenities also would be required.

The zoning ordinance review committee, a 16-member county-appointed zoning board that advises the Planning Commission, voted in favor of Wilbourn’s comprehensive plan amendment 7-2. Some of those members own farms in the Rural Crescent and want to see them developed, said Billy W. Isbell, chairman of the county Planning Commission.

The county currently has a dozen golf-course communities built or under construction, including Heritage Hunt, Dominion Valley and Piedmont — all in the west, Isbell said.

“In the past few years we’ve approved Beaver Creek, Bristow Manor and Belmont Bay,” he said. Since a number of new communities are being approved under the existing comprehensive plan and zoning, he said: “What is lacking in our current ordinance if this isn’t about the Rural Crescent?”

But his main concern is allowing more development in an area where homes are spread out and the extension of water, sewer and other infrastructure would be expensive.

Spitzberg said that he is just as concerned about ground water in the Rural Crescent. “The typical 18-hole golf course uses as much water as a city of 6,000 people,” he said. “We know of properties out here with wells producing only one to three gallons per minute.”

The planning staff has recommended a different alternative — that golf-course communities be allowed only in semi-rural residential districts. This would allow densities of three units per acre rather than one unit per 2.5 acres recommended in the comprehensive plan.

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

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