The 58 town homes were approved on a split vote, 4-2, by city councilors who disagreed on whether the project was right for the prime parcel of land and whether developers had offered substantial enough “proffers,” or voluntary contributions that offset the price of development.
Councilors Sheryl L. Bass and Marc T. Aveni voted against the rezoning request on land bounded by Zebedee and Center streets, Fairview Avenue and Quarry Road in downtown Manassas. The developer removed one town home from the original proposal of 59 town homes so that a historic sycamore tree on the property could be preserved, developers said. Some residents had asked developers to save the sycamore and a fir tree on the property, both of which were preserved.
“We have decreased the density ... increased the open space, and saved a sycamore tree,” said Michael R. Vanderpool, who represented the property owners. “No small feat.”
Aveni said that developers had not adequately addressed the safety concerns of a nearby school. He also said developers fell well short of the city’s expectations for proffers. Developers offered $4,000 per unit for city schools — well below the city’s expectation of $15,480.
“There are too many things that do not meet the requirements,” Aveni said.
However, developers argued that the city used the wrong values to come up with the dollar amount. The city uses a value that expects a high number of children, 0.69 per town home, whereas Falls Church (0.347) and Alexandria (0.16), expect far fewer children for the smaller homes that will cost in the $300,000 range, Vanderpool said in a letter to the city.
Vanderpool also said that the cost of building the homes is much higher in Old Town, which has strict standards that mandate new structures stay in compliance with the historic nature of the area. Developers added in the extra cost from putting in brick sidewalks, “upgraded” doors and trees, among other amenities. That cost would be $18,500 per unit, Vanderpool said.
A city planner said officials plan to reexamine its school proffer policy in the future.
Other councilors said they would have preferred the plan submitted in 2006, which called for thousands of square feet of retail space and around 200 condos. But developers pulled that project in part because of the economy.
Councilor Mark Wolfe said, however, that the project would bring in tax revenue to the city and was appropriate for the area.
“I have a hard time envisioning something better,” he said. “It’s not perfect, but I do feel comfortable ... we’ll look back in five, ten years and it’s something we’ll be proud of.”
Developers hope to start building this summer and say the homes should take around two years to be constructed.