The final installment of major residential development in Manassas, known as Smitherwood, is one step closer to having bulldozers begin work as planners unanimously voted this week to recommend to the City Council a new zoning permit that would allow for the creation of innovative residential designs.

The Planning Commission, which has met periodically over the past 90 days, agreed on a draft version of the zoning district, a document that would enable planners to develop an upscale residential neighborhood, allowing for flexibility and creative, modern designs. No such district yet exists.

"This was an important step that we got out of the way, and now we'll send it to City Council for approval," said Roger Snyder, Manassas's director of community development. "This will be used as a tool for the engineering of Smitherwood."

Council members are expected to discuss the zoning district at their next meeting Monday.

Concern has centered on the size and type of development that would be allowed on the land, a 93-acre diamond-shaped swath of hills and trees on the northern edge that is currently zoned agricultural. City officials are planning for about 270 to 300 units, most of which would be single-family homes tailored for an upscale clientele, with a host of custom houses boasting bold, atypical designs. Snyder said a man-made lake and a buffer zone of trees and greenery, to maintain the woodsy atmosphere, would likely surround the neighborhoods.

"We're all real excited about the project," he said.

Chuck Slonim, a member of the Planning Commission, said that although the project is "high on the list of projects," it still has much tweaking left, including ways to address the inevitable effect on traffic and services.

City officials originally said the community would be self-contained, with one entrance on Plantation Road, thus diminishing the strain on neighborhood roads. But two more undetermined access points have been included, and neighbors say they are welcome.

"Our greatest concern was that of increased traffic," said William Schran, a member of the resident's committee overseeing the project's progression. "But the development itself should have a positive effect on the other neighborhoods by raising the value of the area."

The 93 acres will be developed by the Airston Group, a Gainesville development company that focuses on Prince William County and Northern Virginia. Although the terms of the agreement haven't been disclosed, the deal is likely worth several million dollars. The company will pay for the development and, with the city, the lake, Slonim said.

Other concerns include the effect the additional thousand or so new residents will have on schools. Several hundred children are estimated to move into the area. Snyder said impact studies have yet to be completed.