Plan lacks flexibility, say firms

Developers outnumbered citizens at a public hearing Tuesday and came with the message that proposed development standards are not flexible enough for the market and varying environmental factors.

Their concerns were over changes to Prince William’s comprehensive land-use plans that are before the county planning commission.

A citizens’ advisory committee forwarded its recommendations to the commission two months ago, and after the planning commission, the county board will take up the plan with a final vote in July.

Proposed design guidelines, intended to encourage high quality offices, were criticized.

?Although I am fond of Monticello, I do not think we should mandate Jeffersonian architecture throughout the county,? said Joe McClellan, an area building designer. He was referring to proposed strategies to encourage traditional Virginia architecture in office design.

The guidelines should be deleted or deferred until experts in the design business are consulted, said Eugene Siegel, president of Landservices Inc., which owns the Midwood office park west of Haymarket. Some are contradictory, some examples cannot be done and the level of specificity they involve goes beyond what other areas require, he said.

?It may be more of a deterrent of people we never meet, who we may not even know about, because they looked at the criteria for development and find that it’s just too restrictive, and they’ll go elsewhere,? he said.

Speaking for Manassas Mall, attorney Mike Vanderpool said environmental action strategies that limit parking lot spaces to the minimum necessary would preclude the mall’s ability to add large anchor stores, something it would like to do, but those large store require more than the minimum.

Mark Granville-Smith, executive director of Classic Concept Builders, took credit for the controversial request to allow more homes in mid-county residential areas and said the public misunderstood his intention. It was not to double the density of residential development in semi-rural residential areas from the current average of one home per 2.5 acres, but to provide incentives to save sensitive areas and steep slopes.

Given the public outcry, Granville-Smith said he supports the planning commission going back to the old language. However, he pointed out other wording that encouraged clustering of half-acre lots to make more intense residential streets less buffered and attractive as homes on one to three acres.

Classic Concept Builders engineer Mark Branca said that the terrain of the semi-rural area is rugged and far from sewer lines in most cases. Larger lots can accommodate septic drain fields, while clustering makes that difficult.

Eddie Byrne of KSI Services said the densities required for mass transit nodes are too high to be built. A density of 30 apartment units per acre would require structured parking, which at a cost of $10,000 per space is 10 times that of lot spaces. He said that would require increasing rents to between $1,300 and $1,600 — 50 percent higher than the typical rents of $860 to $1,100 paid in Prince William.

The language also does not allow for transition away from the mass transit location, such as a Virginia Railway Express station.

KSI Services owns land near the Broad Run and Manassas Park Virginia Railway Express stations that could be considered for a mass transit node, but the plan as it is does not have any nodes mapped, so in reality they are not an option under the latest comprehensive plan changes, said KSI attorney Pete Dolan. The plan would require amendments — he proposed overlay districts within half a mile of VRE stations where mass transit nodes could be considered.

Dumfries planning commissioner Rene M. Fry asked why half a mile? Is that the maximum walking distance for man?

Bryne said 1,500 feet is the standard walking zone for developments, with those in residential areas tolerating longer distances, therefore giving the half-mile distance.

Developers also pointed out the office density square footage requirements proposed for some areas were too high to be marketed.

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