The developers of the Celebrate Virginia project will be able to add more residential and office space with fewer restrictions if changes to the zoning ordinance are passed by the Stafford County Board of Supervisors.
A committee of the board, made up of Vice Chairman Ferris M. Belman Sr. (R-At Large) and Supervisor Linda V. Musselman (R-Hartwood), said it will recommend that supervisors adopt the revised ordinance that would nearly double the building-height limit, from 65 feet to 120 feet. They also support adding about 80 plots for large, executive-style houses to the project.
The board is scheduled to consider the changes, as well as the ordinance that was previously approved by the Planning Commission, at its July 13 meeting.
That blueprint, which was approved in April, would create a "recreational business campus" for developments of more than 500 acres, with a specific set of standards for builders to work within. In adopting that plan, officials rejected one with stricter guidelines that would have required developers to get approval for each additional project within a site.
The proposals by Belman and Musselman would further expand the leeway that developers would have within such a project.
"The purpose is to cut out red tape," Belman said.
Others disagree, saying the policymakers are bowing to the demands of the Silver Cos., which is developing Celebrate Virginia and is the only group the ordinance would affect at this time.
"It looks to me to be more favorable to [Larry] Silver than what the Planning Commission came out with," said Supervisor David R. Beiler (I-Falmouth). "I'm surprised. I suppose you would think that what they would be doing is finding more flaws and putting in more protections."
The company has made it clear the revisions are the types of changes it wants.
"Certainly, the height was an issue," said Jud Honaker, spokesman for the development company. "We feel that if we can't take buildings up to a reasonable height, companies won't like that."
Representatives of the Silver Cos. also have stated many times that they are tiring of Stafford's slow movement on approving the project, an issue that has become more pertinent as some of the company's land options are running out.
"We want to know today that we can do it," Honaker said. "We don't want to wait four more months."
Belman acknowledged that the Silver Cos. had suggested raising the building-height limit and adding the executive-style housing provisions but he strongly denied that it is dictating county policy.
"I don't want you to think we're rolling over and playing dead," Belman said, "because we're not."
Musselman did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
The proposed alterations have sparked more angry cries from Rappahannock Area Grassroots, a local group formed in August to oppose Celebrate Virginia.
"This is going to be merely giving [Larry Silver] what he wants," said Arch Di Peppe, the group's vice president. "Many people on the board seem to be the best friend developers ever had. That's one reason we're in the financial difficulty we're in in Stafford."
But many see Celebrate Virginia as a way to climb out of those financial difficulties. The Stafford portion of the project includes several golf courses and a corporate office park, which would provide the commercial tax revenue that county officials are desperately seeking to offset precipitous residential growth.
Belman, for example, said he would like the county's commercial tax base to be 25 percent of the total tax revenue; currently it's about 15 percent. Thus, "we need to get to that 25 percent," he said. "This ordinance is designed, we hope, to help us get there."