The Prince William Board of County Supervisors, in a major reversal of its land use guidelines, approved a residential development last night on 133 acres of prime land near Manassas, a project that the county's planners had adamantly opposed.
In approving Godwin Woods, a mixed-use project calling for 289 houses, the board turned away from its comprehensive plan, a guideline for Prince William's long-term development. That plan had called for the land near Manassas Municipal Airport to be used for business development, which the supervisors usually have insisted is essential to offset the public costs of Prince William's soaring residential growth.
On a 4-to-2 vote, the supervisors ruled that a change in its comprehensive plan was justified because of the recent emergence of a large neighborhood adjacent to the Godwin Woods site in the City of Manassas, an independent locality surrounded by Prince William. Supporters of the zoning change said it would be unfair to subject the Manassas residents to the traffic and other negative side-effects of commercial and industrial growth in Prince William.
Critics, including the county Planning Commission, argued that the supervisors were making a blunder, squandering an ideal opportunity to add to Prince William's business tax base, and likely ensuring new controversies in the future by letting families move in under the flight paths around Manassas airport.
"We cannot support unneeded, revenue-consuming, service- demanding residential housing at the expense of losing 133 acres of potentially prime tax-producing and employment-generating industrial land," said Vicki McDermott of the Northwest Prince William Citizens Association.
Fast-growing jurisdictions such as Prince William usually try to encourage business expansion while seeking to slow housing construction. Houses typically produce the need for more in county services, including schools and transportation, than they return in tax revenue, while the opposite is generally true of business.
People on the two sides of last night's vote said its broader significance is in showing the difficulty of adhering rigidly to planning guidelines.
Critics said the rezoning showed that plans are meaningless if lawmakers do not heed them on key votes.
But supporters of the Godwin Woods rezoning said the vote demonstrated that comprehensive plans must be flexible under changing circumstances. They praised the developers of Godwin Woods, a locally based partnership, for offering about $2.5 million in road construction and other concessions, and they said the project should be an ideal neighbor to Manassas.
The approval last night involved two votes -- the change in the comprehensive plan and a subsequent rezoning. Voting for the plan change were Board Chairman Joseph D. Reading (D-Brentsville), G. Richard Pfitzner (D-Coles), Edwin C. King (D-Dumfries) and John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco). Voting against were Kathleen K. Seefeldt (D-Occoquan) and Tony Guiffre (R-Gainesville). Donald E. Kidwell (R-Woodbrige) abstained. The vote for the rezoning was 5 to 1, with Seefeldt voting against and Kidwell abstaining.