The Piedmont Environmental Council has fired a broadside at an effort to rezone the former Vint Hill Farms Station near Warrenton into a high-tech jobs center and residential community, incurring the wrath of officials who are promoting the high-profile project.
The Vint Hill Economic Development Authority is seeking to rezone 403 acres for a jobs park and an additional 258 acres for as many as 300 homes. The council, which has considerable resources and political clout, remained relatively silent while the authority prepared the plan that was presented to the Planning Commission last month.
But now the environmental council is questioning some of the assumptions of the authority, the quasi-governmental body set up to sell the former military base, creating new jobs and expanding the county's tax base.
A study commissioned by the council and released last week makes the controversial claim that the authority's plans would create millions of dollars in new tax burdens. The report suggests rezoning a smaller area for new businesses and devoting more space to recreation.
Vint Hill officials question the methodology of the report as well as its timing--four years after the Board of Supervisors approved a re-use plan for Vint Hill.
"This report falls on deaf ears with me," said an irked board Chairman Larry L. Weeks (R-Scott), who also is a member of the authority's board. "I am offended by this scurrilous tactic that comes from [council President] Chris Miller's shop."
Despite the cold reception, the council's report could mean that the rezoning process may not progress as smoothly as the authority had hoped. A spokeswoman said the council hopes to delay the plan long enough for it to become the responsibility of the new Board of Supervisors, which will take office in January. Slowing the pace of growth was a campaign theme of all the winners.
Planning Commission Chairman H.F. "Harry" Atherton (Marshall), a supervisor-elect, said the council's report includes some items that cause him to question the authority's projections. Chief among them, its estimate that Vint Hill would create 10,000 jobs, many more than the 3,500 jobs the authority envisions.
"I guess what the report does for me is make me worried about the underlying assumption this plan is based on," Atherton said.
At a Planning Commission meeting last week, authority officials acknowledged the possibility that their estimate may expand to as many as 8,000 jobs. Since that meeting, they have said that any job figures are hypothetical. "The market controls that," said Owen Bludau, the authority's executive director.
The report, by Washington-based consultant Mike Siegel, who has worked for the council in the past, says the number of square feet intended for commercial development indicates that 10,700 jobs would be created, requiring 3,700 new homes to support the new hires and $5.1 million in new services to support the new homes.
But Bludau and Weeks said the number of jobs is exaggerated. And besides, Bludau said, it is the Board of Supervisors, not the authority, that determines the size of residential developments.
Weeks said: "We're not dumb enough to approve 3,700 new houses. Anyone that says we are insults my intelligence."
Kitty P. Smith, the council's Fauquier County field officer, said the authority's business plan also mistakenly assumes that mainly local residents would take the jobs created at Vint Hill.
"You can't build a wall around Fauquier County and say that only people from the county can take those new jobs," she said. "If they employ that many people out there, it's going to determine how many people in-migrate."
The Planning Commission will consider the zoning package at its next meeting Nov. 18.