Prince William board faces deadline on north Woodbridge plan

Board Chairman Corey Stewart
Board Chairman Corey Stewart (Tracy A Woodward - The Washington Post)
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By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors must act Tuesday on the proposed redevelopment plan for north Woodbridge or it will get kicked back to the Planning Commission, further stalling what has been in the works for years.

The comprehensive plan amendment before the board this week focuses on turning 160 acres of land into a pedestrian-friendly area with homes, businesses and offices. The plan calls for 2,500 to 3,500 multifamily units, up to 750,000 square feet of office space, up to 500,000 square feet of retail development and a hotel.

"I believe the board will step up to the plate, vote on the plan and send a message to the business community and residents that change is in the air," Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge) said, noting that the board had 90 days to act following the Planning Commission's recommended approval of the plan.

Supervisors have agreed on the need to revitalize the Route 1 corridor in north Woodbridge, which serves as a gateway to Prince William. But the plan for the area, which is saturated with car repair shops, vacant land and abandoned buildings, has stalled because of concerns that residential development would outpace commercial, furthering the county's outsize reliance on its residential tax base.

"The real problem in Prince William is we have over 60 percent of our population commuting out of the county," board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said. "We don't have enough employment for that population. . . . Part of what we are trying to do in north Woodbridge is revitalization and redevelopment . . . but we are also trying to use it as an economic opportunity."

Supervisors are considering three plans for the area, with each offering a different way to phase in residential and commercial development.

One plan establishes percentage requirements for how much residential and commercial could be built at a time. Under one option, for instance, no more than 50 percent of the residential units could be approved until at least 25 percent of the commercial development was approved, county documents show.

Another plan, which county staff members presented last week, does not give any percentages but instead allows supervisors to determine the proper phasing for each development that comes before the board.

"We believe this gives the board the maximum amount of flexibility because it allows you to evaluate each case," county planner Pat Thomas told the board Tuesday. "One developer said this really is art, it is not science and there is no magic formula or way to do this. This language would give you maximum flexibility and control."

Stewart has also presented a third plan that ties the development to two proposed transportation improvements that are out of the county's hands because they are state projects.

The first planned improvement is to widen Route 1 to six lanes, and the second is to complete an overpass to alleviate congestion at the Route 1 and Route 123 interchange. Thomas said the first project has received some funding but is $17 million short of coming to fruition. No funding has been secured for the second proposed project.

Stewart's plan states that no more than 33 percent of the residential units can be approved until 25 percent of the commercial development is under construction and the first transportation project is complete. It also states that no more than 67 percent of the residential units can be approved until 50 percent of the commercial development is under construction and the overpass is complete.

Stewart said he hopes his plan would give developers an incentive to lobby state and federal officials to secure funding for the transportation improvements so they can move forward with their developments.

But Principi didn't agree with Stewart's plan.

"I don't think it is a good idea to eliminate phasing entirely, nor do I believe it is smart to tie phasing to construction of Route 1 and an overpass, particularly when we are in an area where we are trying to encourage mass transit," Principi said, adding that he prefers the phasing outlined in the original proposal.

Residents, business owners and other stakeholders have been waiting years for the north Woodbridge area to be redeveloped. Some even invested in the community because of the county's vision, including IDI Group, which plans to build a three-tower luxury condominium development, and Virginia Railway Express, which officially opened its new pedestrian bridge and second platform at the Woodbridge station Wednesday.

Whatever plan is adopted Tuesday will go into the county's comprehensive plan and act as a guide for future development. It is not, however, a legally binding document and will only apply to 50 parcels in the 160-acre plot of land, Thomas said, noting that the rest of the plot, about 39 acres, is zoned for residential use and does not qualify for a phasing plan. It will then be up to county officials to recruit and developers to come forward to make the vision a reality.

"The goal is to make this a destiny," Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries) said. "When you go over the bridge and come into Prince William, it's untidy and needs to be cleaned up. I'm in favor of whatever we can do to make this a premier community."

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