A developer is proposing to build thousands of homes in western Prince William County and provide an unprecedented $100 million-plus in road improvements to the area, including the extension of carpool lanes on Interstate 66.
Brookfield Homes, which promotes itself as one of the 20 biggest home-building companies in the country, wants to create a town center of restaurants, shops, office buildings and a 100-acre park that would be surrounded by about 6,000 homes near Gainesville, if rezoning is approved next year.
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"It will be truly a place where you can work, live and play," said company executive Richard Dengler yesterday.
The development, which would be called the Brentswood Community, is in keeping with Prince William's push to redefine itself as a center for jobs and million-dollar homes instead of as a destination for outlet shopping and a source of cheap housing. In recent months, development plans have materialized for the county's first luxury hotel and conference center, a gourmet grocery store and riverfront high-rises.
To improve its chances of gaining approval for the massive development, Brookfield Homes is proposing projects that would significantly improve transportation in one of the county's most congested corridors. The developer would not only extend carpool lanes by nearly two miles, but it would also widen the interchange at Interstate 66 and Route 29 and build an overpass to eliminate a nearby railroad grade crossing, often the scene of crashes and daily traffic tie-ups.
"Our problem out there is basically this: We have the train and two major roads that come all together right there," said Sean T. Connaughton (R), chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.
"We're talking about more lanes, flyovers," Dengler said. "It's a full-blown interchange. . . . It will eliminate congestion."
Brookfield Homes is also proposing to provide land for a future Virginia Railway Express station and commuter lot in the area. "The VRE station is just in preliminary talks. We're going to dedicate land so that they can build the station," Dengler said.
Connaughton said the Brookfield development is one of the largest proposed in the county and the company's offer to spend $111 million to improve roads and interchanges one of the most generous proffers made by a developer hoping for a rezoning in Prince William.
Brookfield's offer comes at a time when the state is looking for affordable answers to traffic congestion in Northern Virginia. Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) announced an $824 million transportation plan last week but is also promoting the use of private money for road and rail upgrades.
Connaughton said Brookfield's offer may be too good to pass up. "What they have put on the table is the mother of all proffers," said Connaughton, who is promoting transportation as one of his main issues as he campaigns for his party's nomination for lieutenant governor. "That opportunity may never be there again. The state may never have the money to do this interchange."
The proposed 1,500-acre site is made up of about 500 acres of property zoned for industrial use and an additional 1,000 acres, known as the Hunter Tract. It is "the largest remaining property zoned for Agricultural use in this area of the County," according to the developer's application to the Prince William planning department last week.
Dengler oversaw the development of the Braemar community, a 3,115-home development of condominiums, townhouses and detached houses south of the proposed Brentswood Community. "The Hunter Tract was always on the radar screen," he said.
Brookfield Homes is "under contract with large deposits" to purchase the property from the Hunter family pending a successful rezoning, said Dengler, who would not disclose the purchase price.
The land would have to be rezoned to allow residential use, both high and medium density to provide for as many as 15 units per acre, according to the developer's proposal.
Michelle Neal-Heard, a former Haymarket council member, said the traffic can be unbearable in the area.
"We can't stop development. You have to work with it," she said. She said the developer's proposal for road improvements sounds promising. "Hopefully, they [the county] have it in writing," she said.