After nearly two years of contentious deliberations, the Stafford County Board of Supervisors cleared the way for the development of the Celebrate Virginia project during a bitter, heated and caustic meeting Thursday.
The board approved rezoning 1,170 acres under the county's new Recreational Business Campus designation. This rezoning will permit the Silver Cos., which is developing the project, to build an office park, golf courses, shops and restaurants on the site.
The parcel sits east of Interstate 95 on the northern side of the Rappahannock River. Hundreds of additional acres are planned for the project on the southern side of the river in Fredericksburg.
The board also voted to establish the Celebrate Virginia North Community Development Authority, which will serve as a vehicle for funding improvements for the project. The authority would be able to levy taxes on property owners within its boundaries to pay for infrastructure. It would be a five-person body appointed by supervisors.
The lone dissenter on the rezoning vote was Supervisor David R. Beiler (I-Falmouth), who said he voted against it largely as a protest to the board's unwillingness to raise the building heights within the project. Beiler sought a 65-foot limit, but the board approved buildings up to 120 feet tall.
"If I'm riding down the river looking at a high rise someday and my son says, 'Who allowed that to happen?' I won't have to say it was me," Beiler said at the meeting.
The establishment of the community development authority passed unanimously.
Despite the fact that Celebrate Virginia has dominated headlines for more than a year and has divided both the board and the general public, Thursday's tension was largely the result of Tuesday's election, in which longtime Supervisors Alvin Y. Bandy (R-George Washington) and Lindbergh A. Fritter (R-Griffis-Widewater) were defeated.
Bandy repeatedly lashed out at fellow supervisors and even toward some in the audience. He continually referred to Peter J. Fields, who defeated him, as "Sneaky Pete" and directed his scorn toward Beiler, who assisted Fields, several times.
At one point, Bandy barked "Shut up!" in the direction of Supervisor Robert C. Gibbons (R-Rock Hill) after Gibbons suggested delaying the vote. An audience member then raised a bumper sticker bearing Fields's name, prompting Bandy to turn to her and say: "You can shut up, too."
The crowd gasped, with many shaking their heads and murmuring about Bandy's bitterness.
The usually calm and reserved Fritter also let loose when discussion arose about delaying the vote yet again.
"I think you're coming in the back door to delay this until next year," when the new supervisors take over, he said.
Yet the measures passed, giving the supervisors a chance to sum up their feelings about the seemingly endless deliberations.
"I support this project, and it's from the bottom of my heart because this is the right thing for Stafford County," Supervisor Ferris M. Belman Sr. (I-At Large) said. "I believe we've got a good project, and I'm proud to vote for it."
And in summation, Chairman Kenneth T. Mitchell (R-Aquia) said: "If these issues were real simple, they wouldn't have elected officials up here to do it. We're trying to get jobs for the citizens. We're trying to get jobs for your children."