Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) received a $10,000 donation from Bruni Peters at RK Realty on Oct. 7, according to campaign filings. Eleven days later, Stewart and the rest of the board voted to approve zoning and other changes for an RK Realty project called Hunter at Haymarket, a mixed-use office and residential development on about 50 acres near the town of Haymarket in western Prince William County.
RK Realty plans to develop part of the property that, because of the county’s rezoning, will accommodate about 680,000 square feet of office space and up to 25 single-family homes.
Bob Weir, who sits on Haymarket’s Town Council, had asked that supervisors who had accepted donations from developers recuse themselves from voting. Weir said the town is opposed to the project because, among other things, it would add more than 4,000 vehicle trips to area roads and places an option for an eight-story hotel where the rest of the buildings in the surrounding area have lower height restrictions.
Members of the county’s planning commission opposed the project for similar reasons.
“On this one, and on all of them it would appear,” Weir said, asked if he thought campaign contributions had played a role in the board’s approval of the project. “This isn’t an isolated incident. What’s the purpose of having bodies vet these things if you're not going to … abide by their recommendations, if the issues that are brought up are just brushed aside?”
But Stewart said that the project was not controversial, noting that it passed unanimously and without debate among supervisors. Stewart said that he did not speak with Peters about the proposed development before the vote and that the donation did not affect his vote or the county’s decision.
“I was concerned about the timing,” Stewart said of the donation. “[But] it was a non-controversial office development the board passed unanimously. Any controversy, I would have delayed the vote until later or I would have asked RK Realty to not donate but … they’re building office space, which is exactly what the county needs and exactly what the voters want.”
Stewart said that the town of Haymarket wanted the project to be within the town’s borders so that it could add the development to its tax base. Weir said that had nothing to do with the town’s position.
RK Realty and Peters are among Stewart’s biggest supporters, donating $20,500 this election cycle, according to campaign records. The project application has been pending for about two years.
EV Hunter Trust, RK Realty and Bruni Peters have previously given donations to other supervisors in smaller amounts.
Gainesville Supervisor John Stirrup (R) received $1,500 for his state Senate campaign in May; $6,500 went to Supervisor W.S. “Wally” Covington (R-Brentsville) ($1,500 in May 2009 and and $5,000 in July); $1,000 to Supervisor John Jenkins (D-Neabsco) in May; and Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) received $2,500 in May, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Peters couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
The Town of Haymarket will consider a lawsuit against the county during its Monday meeting, Weir said. A potential lawsuit stems from a technical issue — county staff changed the zoning designation of the property before the application was brought to the planning commission, Weir said. Weir said such changes can only be made by county supervisors, and the town is considering whether to challenge the move in court.