Two slow-growth measures, decried by opponents as political ploys pandering to public opinion, were defeated by the Prince William Board of County Supervisors last week.
By twin 5-to-3 votes, the board turned down proposals that would have matched growth to available infrastructure -- one measure required new homes to be built only when the roads could handle more traffic, and the other asked for state permission to pass a law requiring new residential growth to be matched with adequate public facilities.
Backers said the measures were a response to voters who, by turning down a sales tax increase to fund roads, sent a clear message on Election Day to temper growth.
County guidelines allow new homes to be built where roads are planned, not just where they exist. But some supervisors said that has become an unrealistic approach since many roads on long-term planning maps have disappeared after state budget cuts. The three board members who supported the measures -- Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R-At Large), Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries) and Ruth T. Griggs (R-Occoquan) -- also desire to slow the influx of new homes and saw this as a way to take immediate action.
"We talk about our ability or lack of ability [to slow growth], but some of it is things we could potentially do here," said Connaughton, who proposed the measure. "I offer this in the light of maybe this is something within our authority we can do now."
The 5-to-3 vote favoring growth is familiar in Prince William. While virtually every other county in central and Northern Virginia has moved to slow the pace of residential growth, Prince William has remained a champion of development.
The adequate public facilities proposal would have added Prince William to the growing list of counties across the state seeking the authority to match development to infrastructure, such as schools and public safety. If the proposal had passed, gaining that authority would have become a priority for Prince William in the upcoming General Assembly session.
Many localities have pinpointed adequate public facilities as a powerful tool to slow growth, but Virginia law requires that localities are allowed to pass laws only after gaining permission from state officials.
The five board members who voted against the measures last week -- Supervisors John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco), Edgar S. Wilbourn III (R-Gainesville), Mary K. Hill (R-Coles), Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge) and Loring B. "Ben" Thompson (R-Brentsville) -- said it was unwise to approve such drastic measures without first having county officials research their potential results, such as how they would affect economic growth.
The five also described the measures as a political ploy that played to a public tide turning against unchecked development.
"We're going headlong down a dark alley," Jenkins said. "We need to have a work session. We need to go about this logically and stop playing politics with it."
"I think they were politically correct resolutions that weren't well thought out," Wilbourn said.
Hill noted that she had proposed an adequate public facilities measure seven years ago and was told that the county's proffer system -- the money developers are required to pay for each new home they build -- was more beneficial to the county. So she declined to go along in the absence of another study.
Griggs, who proposed the adequate public facilities measure, vowed to continue the fight without the backing of the board. "The iron is hot," she said. "A lot of people are interested in doing this in this session."