Prince William County halts western growth, citing schools

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 7, 2010

A resolution meant to address school overcrowding and curb residential growth in Prince William's western end was approved Tuesday by the Board of County Supervisors.

The policy, introduced by the chairman and unanimously adopted by the board, allows supervisors to approve rezonings in the Linton Hall area but prevents developers from getting building permits until a handful of schools is built.

"The school overcrowding situation in the Linton Hall area is a real crisis," Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said. "What this does is give us some assurance that you are not going to have additional residences until new schools are in line. . . . We need to give the school system time to catch up."

The policy affects an area that covers about 25 percent of the county and mainly includes the Brentsville, Nokesville and Bristow area, county planners said.

On average, the elementary schools in the designated area are 30 percent above their ideal capacity. Glenkirk Elementary School, at about 50 percent over capacity, is the most crowded. The middle and high schools, on average, are about 10 percent over capacity.

Prince William Planning Director Stephen K. Griffin said that if rezoning requests are approved in the Linton Hall area, developers would have to phase in their projects so no homes are built until two new elementary schools and a high school are open and sites for an additional elementary school and middle school are acquired.

The policy will apply to the rezoning of a controversial project in the Rural Crescent, which the board deferred last month. Brookfield Homes wants to add 295 houses in the Linton Hall area in a development known as Avendale and has proffered two school sites. Michael Lubeley, who represents Brookfield, said houses probably wouldn't go up for three years.

Schools officials said T. Clay Wood Elementary and Patriot High are under construction in the Linton Hall area and scheduled to open in 2011 at capacity. The school system plans to build another elementary school by 2012, but that has not been funded.

"It's encouraging that the board of supervisors is taking a serious look at coupling new development with the overcrowding in schools. To me, that's a positive thing," Prince William School Board Chairman Milton C. Johns (At Large) said.

"This is a good first step," Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) said. "When I first got elected, the board was very instrumental in dealing with traffic in that corridor. . . . Now we're turning our attention to the schools, and I think we are going to be just as successful."

Some supervisors worried that developers would try to get the Virginia General Assembly to pass a bill that would override the policy.

Some also expressed concern that the policy might turn away developers that might have provided generous road packages. But Stewart said that's not the pressing concern.

"I don't care what sugar daddy comes into the Linton Hall corridor and suggests more housing," Stewart said. "They have to address the education component first."

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