Funding for railroad extension boosts Potomac Shores

Ten years ago, 2,500 acres of forested land along the Potomac River in Prince William County was a grand vision of developer Robert C. Kettler, who plotted a luxury town center project he called Harbor Station.

Last year, the massive property was purchased out of receivership and its new owner, SunCal Cos., began the work of turning the long-stalled project, renamed Potomac Shores, into reality.

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The project recently got a key boost. The Federal Railroad Administration announced it would provide $74.8 million for commuter rail in Northern Virginia, enabling the construction of an additional 11 miles of track from Stafford County to Prince William County and a third Virginia Railway Express line stretching from the District to a station at Potomac Shores. Unlike most of the area’s new town center-style developments, Potomac Shores, located 30 miles south of D.C. along Interstate-95, is to be accessible by rail.

Kettler, the Tysons Corner-based developer, called the property “the single best piece of land I’ve ever bought, with the most potential of anything I’ve ever bought.” But in nine years he spent more than $200 million not constructing buildings, but assembling the land, adding roads, laying sewers and constructing an 18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus that is complete — save for having no clubhouse — but which has never been opened to the public.

The county approved the construction of 3,000 homes, a 450-slip marina on the river and a town center with 3.7 million square feet of offices and shopping. Kettler attempted to stick with the project after the financial collapse, but the bank that financed the property’s purchase, Wachovia, placed a note on the property into receivership and sold it to SunCal in August of last year.

“With the access to the District and Virginia, it was really the last master-planned development to buy in Prince William County, which from our perspective is exactly the deal we’d like to buy,” said Frank Cappello, president of eastern region for the company.

After buying the project, SunCal reworked some of Kettler’s plans to reflect changing interests in homes, reducing the size of some of them and opting to build single family homes in earlier phases and retail later. It sold 371 lots to NVR, based in Reston, in August of this year, and the first homes should open in mid-2013. SunCal also plans a five-star resort, which would be the first in Prince William.

The VRE station will give the project a leg up on similar projects being plotted throughout the region. Cappello said that the station could open in 2015 or 2016 and would be accessible to many of the project’s future residents.

“Most people who live within the town center will be within a five- or seven-minute walk of the train station, which is what we’d like to see in a transit-oriented development,” Cappello said.

 
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