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Plan seeks to revive north Woodbridge with dense development

Park said he purchased the 15-acre shopping center two years ago because he was aware of the county's proposal for the area.

"The county is on the right track," he said. "We've had some challenges, but for the first time in years, we feel like we are finally turning the corner and the wind is behind our back."

Another large stakeholder is the IDI Group, which plans to build Rivergate, a three-tower luxury condominium development near the waterfront. The development was approved in 2005, but the economic downturn has stalled construction.

"We are encouraged the plan [will be] before the board because it sends a message that this is a place where the county is ready to welcome quality development," said Carlos Cecchi, vice president and Rivergate project manager.

Besides development, the other key elements of the plan address recreation and transportation. Principi said he hopes the area, situated between historic Occoquan and Belmont Bay, becomes a third waterfront community where people take advantage of aquatic activities and the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail that cuts through.

In terms of transportation, the area is served by Virginia Railway Express and commuter buses. It is near a commuter lot and could be served by a proposed commuter ferry, which would run to the District and Maryland.

The plan includes two major transportation upgrades. Phase One is to widen Route 1 to six lanes with a median and walking trail, Principi said, noting that the $32 million project still needs to secure $17 million. Phase Two would be to complete an overpass that would alleviate congestion at Route 1 and Route 123, which would cost $70 million. A pedestrian bridge over Route 1 from the VRE station is also proposed.

"Without the proper execution of Phase One, I don't think this new Woodbridge vision will be realized," Park said. "Where the roads will be needs to be flushed out first. But as soon as the first shovel is in the ground, there are several stakeholders excited about moving forward."

Jim Epstein, one of the developers of Belmont Bay, also said the critical portion of the plan is roads, not just the major thoroughfares but also the connecting streets. The road network plan, he said, needs to be more detailed.

"My opinion is it is still a pretty amateur job to make . . . a true urban community," he said. "They are starting to understand what is needed to make an urban center, and I think they do have a unique opportunity to do something extraordinary," but the proposal needs more work.

If approved, the north Woodbridge plan would be placed in the county's comprehensive plan. It would not change any zoning or be a legally binding document but instead would serve as a guide to developers looking to build in the area. It would also, county officials hope, show that the area is poised for new economic opportunities and persuade businesses to invest.

"The idea is if the board approves the master plan, the developers and investors will see here is a place where we can do mixed-use, transit development and create jobs," Principi said. "North Woodbridge may be a small geographic center in a city, but it can become . . . [an] economic engine for Prince William."

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