Because the town sits on the Occoquan River, it has had its share of floods and scares in the past. But September’s inundation wasn’t caused by the river but by a relatively small creek called Ballywhack that overwhelmed an area culvert, flooded back yards and ran down the hill toward the town.
It was a stark reminder of the perils the town faces when managing the storm water system, which has been an issue for years — and it speaks at least partly to why town officials and residents are afraid that a proposed nearby development, Oaks III, could further imperil the town. The Prince William Board of County Supervisors is scheduled to take up the issue Tuesday.
The Oaks III proposal isn’t a huge development. It’s a single, 32,500-square-foot office building and one house proposed for the corner of Tanyard Hill and Old Bridge roads, just outside the town. Town residents and elected officials say that they had hoped to persuade developer Ken Thompson to improve the project and that they thought he didn’t take their concerns seriously.
James Phelps lives on Union Street, which becomes Tanyard Hill Road. His house was flooded badly in September, when water rushed through his yard.
Although he is concerned about his property, he said, it’s the town he worries about most if the storm water situation worsens. He and others also are concerned about the traffic — described as a “nightmare” during rush hour — on Tanyard Hill, a two-lane road that goes directly into the town.
“I have a deep and abiding love for this area, and I’m torn about this because I want the county to grow,” Phelps said. “But . . . this is not the right project.”
If the project is approved, “I don’t believe that the town will recover,” he said.
Thompson, of Ken Thompson & Associates, who has developed in the county for decades, said the advanced storm water management system he has proposed would trap water better than the natural land does. He also said an independent traffic study called for only 11 cars traveling on Tanyard Hill — most of the traffic will go to Old Bridge Road, which connects to Woodbridge and the surrounding area, he said.
“When people are against something, they have to talk about something,” he said.
His proposal includes rain barrels, cisterns and an underground storm water management system that exceeds the town and Chesapeake Bay requirements, he said.
Further, Thompson points to the county’s long-range planning document, the Comprehensive Plan, which calls for 150,000 square feet of office space and about 40 homes on the site. His project is considerably smaller. He is promising to place about 14 acres of the site into a conservation easement with the rights held by the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, meaning that he or another landowner could not build there, he said.