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Pr. William Wants to Build 25 Centers Around Transit

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said Prince William's plan raises issues because it appears the county is adding development, not shifting it.
Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said Prince William's plan raises issues because it appears the county is adding development, not shifting it. (By Linda Spillers -- Associated Press)

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By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 9, 2008

Prince William County wants to reinvent itself, by centering growth in 25 walkable, environmentally friendly areas to reduce sprawl.

Unlike similar projects across the region, which focus on one section of a county or town, the Prince William plan is more ambitious. The county wants to transform almost 20 square miles, about 12,500 acres, into "centers of community" and "centers of commerce" -- half-mile circles of high-density, mixed-use projects built around mass transit.

Residents, developers and business owners had their first opportunity to comment on the plan last night at a Planning Commission hearing on the concept proposed by the Land Use Advisory Committee. The panel of eight people appointed by supervisors to review the county's Comprehensive Plan spent a year rethinking how the county approaches development.

Every chair in the 150-seat board chamber was filled, and more than 50 people signed up to address the commission. Many speakers seemed to support the concept but questioned the number of centers, where they would be and the significant shift in the county's land-use policy.

"We have no identity; we have no destination," said Mary Ann Ghadban, 54, a lifelong Prince William resident and commercial real estate broker. "This is an opportunity to finally get on the radar screen of Class A businesses. It will allow us to get competitive with Loudoun and Fairfax" counties.

Before the hearing, Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said he has noticed growing support for mixed-use development, such as Reston Town Center, across the region.

"There is a sea change in thinking," he said.

Empty-nesters, retirees and single workers will dominate the home-buying landscape in the next 15 years, Schwartz said. They will want to live near public transportation in communities where they can walk to the store or coffee shop. There is a similar effort underway in Montgomery County to convert Rockville Pike from a jumble of strip shopping centers into a walkable town center.

Prince William's plan raises significant issues, Schwartz said, because it appears that the county is adding development rather than shifting it.

Schwartz said the 25 centers "sound like too many. In order to get public support without undermining their efforts, the county may need to prioritize which ones and where."

The 19 community-focused centers would be made up of low- to mid-rise offices, townhouses, county parks, libraries, schools, religious institutions and public safety facilities.

The six centers of commerce, located along Interstates 95 and 66, would be designed for regional use. They would serve as urban town centers, with a mix of big-box retailers, malls, movie theaters, hotels and mid- to high-rise condominiums and corporate, government and high-tech offices.


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