The deed from the former Vint Hill Farms Station has been transferred from the U.S. Army to the economic development authority charged with turning the 696-acre property into a business park and residential neighborhood.
There was little fanfare accompanying the official handoff of the former Army listening post that once employed 3,500 workers and whose closure was announced officially in 1993.
Instead of the dramatics of a flag-lowering ceremony, which happened in 1997 when the last of the military personnel left the facility, the end of Army ownership came Sept. 24 after a series of meetings with lawyers and staff members in which documents were signed and courtesies exchanged.
"There really wasn't much," said Owen Bludau, executive director of the Vint Hill Economic Development Authority that now has ownership of the property.
Likewise, Bludau said, there will be little ceremony when Vint Hill, on its own now, holds a coming-out party Wednesday, for which a few signs will be erected and a new logo unveiled suggesting the type of high-technology companies the property hopes to attract--"Vint.Hill".
"Now we've got the total responsibility of getting things done," Karen Cosner, a member of the authority's board, said in an interview. "We're on our own."
And that's why the more consequential first steps for the authority as owner began Thursday evening.
That's when the authority went before the Fauquier Planning Commission to seek one of the largest rezoning packages in the county's recent history, a package that officials anticipate will change the focus of development in the fast-growing New Baltimore community while providing hundreds of new jobs.
Until that rezoning is approved, the authority cannot begin the long process of selling itself out of existence. And because selling the properties will happen in stages, with profits from each phase plowed into capital improvements that in turn would make available for sale other portions of the land, the staff of the authority is eager to have the rezoning occur quickly.
"We are under tight time and budget constraints," Cosner told the Planning Commission on Thursday. "We need approval, as soon as possible, of this zoning package."
Before that happens, however, several questions remain to be answered, including traffic configurations, the terms of the transfer of Vint Hill's sewage treatment plant to the Fauquier County Water and Sanitation Authority and the potentially thorny issue of an addition of a school site.
Those are relatively minor details compared with the thrust of the effort to redevelop the property, with its emphasis on job creation to expand the local tax base. Sifted through by several citizens panels, the plan would add 300 new homes on about 258 acres as well as the centerpiece 403-acre commercial and industrial area. The development would include a village center and recreational facilities.
Also included in both the commercial area and the residential area proposal now before the Planning Commission is an 18-hole golf course. Not requested for rezoning, because it will eventually be turned over to the federal government anyway, are 34 acres that the Federal Aviation Administration is in the midst of occupying for its $73 million regional facility. Construction on that is scheduled to begin in January, pending a lease agreement.
Bludau and several others involved in the plan said they expected little controversy in the eventual adoption of the zoning requests by the authority. That is no mean feat in a county where large developments are met with much scrutiny.
"The zoning is very much what they've been talking about from Day One," Kitty P. Smith, Fauquier County field officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council, said in an interview. She was referring to the "base reuse plan" that was adopted by a federally appointed task force in 1995, and later that year by the Board of Supervisors.
"I have not anticipated big hurdles," said supervisors Chairman Larry L. Weeks (R-Scott), who also serves on the board of the Economic Development Authority. "But there will be adjustments."
One of those includes finding a site for a middle school. That was included in original drafts of the base reuse plan. But the Fauquier County School Board at the time refused the offer for free land because, for budget reasons, it planned to renovate and expand existing schools instead of building a new one.
That stated goal could change. Members of the School Board have begun discussions on acquiring a new middle school site, and officials such as Weeks have expressed enthusiasm for securing land from Vint Hill for that purpose.
The issue could turn contentious, because Bludau said that adding new land for a school would take away land slated for sale and throw the authority's budget out of whack. He also said that he thought the issue was a dead one, because the School Board already passed on the proposal.
"I don't blame the [Economic Development Authority] for this Johnny-come-lately idea," Weeks said. "The School Board had the land in their hands without asking for it and gave it up."
The authority has offered the county several "proffers" in exchange for rezoning the land. Those include new money for the widening of Route 215 that is tied to land sales, existing recreational and fire safety equipment and facilities, land for road construction and the sewage treatment plant that is to be expanded to provide long-awaited sewer service to the New Baltimore district.
"The county has never seen a proffer package of this value," Bludau said.