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Prince William allows Avendale development in Rural Crescent

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 8, 2010; PW01

A portion of Prince William County's Rural Crescent was chipped away Tuesday when the Board of County Supervisors approved a development plan in the county's western end.

After hearing from more than 50 people, supervisors voted, 5 to 3, in support of a rezoning and its accompanying comprehensive plan amendment that redesignates almost 180 acres along Vint Hill and Nokesville roads from the rural area to a development area. The change allows Brookfield Homes to build a subdivision with as many as 295 houses.

Supervisors Michael C. May (R-Occoquan), Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge) and John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville) voted against the proposal.

The Linton Hall area project, known as Avendale, has been in the works for years and has drawn controversy. Many residents have spoken out against the development because it cuts into the Rural Crescent, about 117,000 acres of land set aside in the late 1990s to preserve open space and agricultural resources. But many have supported the project, saying it will bring work to struggling local businesses.

Although the land rezoned Tuesday was part of the Rural Crescent, the county's comprehensive plan already called for the realignment of Vint Hill Road, which some envision as the northern boundary of the crescent. Moving Vint Hill to connect farther south with Nokesville Road will effectively change the crescent's boundary, some project supporters said, and Avendale will be built north of the realigned road, keeping development to the north and open space to the south.

Brookfield Homes will help pay for the realignment.

"My decision to support this rests on the transportation issue," said Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville). "Traditional funding sources for roads are just dead, so it is requiring us to do these partnerships. This will help fix the safety problem there, which is my main concern."

Brookfield's project includes $14 million in proffers, some of which are in-kind, including 77 acres of open space to be used by the schools or for recreation.

Having recreational space included is what drew dozens of people from the Gainesville-Haymarket Youth Football League to Tuesday's meeting. With 800 members and only one field in the county to play on, the league has tried for years to get new fields. Although not specifically promised in the developer's application, league members are hopeful the recreational space can be turned into fields.

"We have taken every avenue before us and have not been successful, so this was just another effort to show our growth, stand in front of them as a group and say we are in need" of fields, league Commissioner Gary Skeens said after the meeting. "Even if this didn't pass, we would have been content that the Grizzlies were heard, and we just hope in the future [county officials] will be looking out for us."

Some opponents of the project said Covington promised the Grizzlies fields if the development was built and used the children to persuade the board to vote for the project. Covington and Skeens said that is not true.

"No promises were made, but opportunities were created," Covington said. "The frustration the Grizzlies had is that nobody had been listening to them over the years. I didn't promise them anything but said there are opportunities you can compete for."

Opponents said the project will further strain overwhelmed roads and overcrowded schools. County documents show that the three schools near the development -- Nokesville Elementary, Marsteller Middle and Brentsville District High schools -- are overcapacity. The county's School Board and Planning Commission had recommended blocking the development.

"Every school is overcapacity, and my kids attend the fifth-closest elementary because of overcrowding," Prince William resident Richard Hansford said Tuesday. "We need to put new schools in" before there is more development, he said.

Mike Lubeley, an attorney for Brookfield, said the developer won't submit building permits until two new elementary schools and a new high school open in the Linton Hall area. County officials said those schools are set to open in fall 2011.

Opponents of the project also brought up a pledge supervisors May, Principi, Stirrup and board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) signed during the 2007 election to protect the Rural Crescent. After the vote, Stewart put forward, and the board passed, a resolution reaffirming supervisors' commitment to preserve the Rural Crescent.

Supporters, who mostly came from the football league Tuesday, stressed the lack of recreational resources in the county. Supporters at a previous public hearing had praised the quality of Brookfield's developments and called the project a chance to create a pristine neighborhood. A few real estate agents also spoke in favor of the development Tuesday.

"I live here, work here and own a business here. We are experiencing a lack of inventory . . . and very needed amenities," said Kathleen Kennedy of the Prince William Association of Realtors. "I urge you to support any development that will . . . help increase inventory and stabilize the market."

Lubeley said it will take about eight years for the project to be built out.

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