RICHMOND, JUNE 5 -- Municipalities across Virginia, especially those feeling the pinch of rapid growth, are clamoring for passage of the types of taxing and zoning laws that have helped Northern Virginia expand its highway network and other public services, according to a new survey of local governments.
The survey, released here today during a meeting of a statewide transportation commission, is sure to fuel the widening debate over the local financing of public works projects, a politically explosive issue that the General Assembly has begun to address in recent years.
In the belief that "growth should help pay for itself," officials in high-growth areas from Tidewater to suburban Richmond and beyond now favor an array of builder fees, special taxing districts, expanded zoning authority and other new powers over development, said Kathleen K. Seefeldt, a Prince William County supervisor who directed the survey.
Seefeldt acknowledged that many of these ideas are for the most part "new and untried in Virginia" and will "assuredly meet with disfavor from some of the development community."
However, she added, "a little self-interest can go a long way to resolving problems. Where the development community and local governments have banded together to resolve a problem, the results have been very positive."
One major impediment to that cooperation, according to several people attending today's commission meeting, has been Virginia's legislature, whose generally conservative members are often leery of approving laws enabling localities to try innovative funding plans.
However, during the past decade and as recently as this past winter, the General Assembly bowed to Northern Virginia's requests for state statutes giving local governments in the Washington suburbs greater leeway over highway funding.
In February, for instance, the assembly approved a package of three bills authorizing a special taxing district to help pay for the widening of Rte. 28 in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, a similar district in Prince William County to help finance construction of the planned Rte. 234 bypass, and a series of other districts in those three counties to finance transportation projects.
Del. C. Richard Cranwell (D-Vinton), whose stature in the House of Delegates makes him a key player in devising highway funding plans, said today there is considerable legislative support for extending to other jurisdictions at least one set of zoning powers that Northern Virginia has had since 1976.
Called "conditional zoning," the law allows local governments to negotiate with developers for donations of rights of way and monetary contributions for road construction. Conditional zoning helps hold down property taxes, but it invaribly increases the cost of development and new housing, the survey said.