A major developer of luxury condominiums wants to build three upscale towers on Route 1 in Woodbridge, a move that supporters say would help Prince William revitalize a gritty corridor that has long been home to cheap housing and fading strip malls.
The project, dubbed Rivergate and being proposed by the Rosslyn-based IDI Group, would overlook the Occoquan River and enhance other projects slated to bring much-needed new retail, office space, and high-end housing to the county's eastern side, its supporters say.
Even so, the project has already drawn disapproval. With 720 units, it could also overwhelm the region's transportation system, critics say, adding more traffic to an already congested Interstate 95, Route 1 and even the region's commuter rail system, Virginia Railway Express, which is already at capacity.
Recently, county leaders have touted a new image for Prince William as developers plan the county's first luxury hotel and a performing arts center modeled after an Italian opera house. But increasingly, county officials are facing the limitations of an infrastructure hard-pressed to keep up with everything people want to build in Prince William.
"Everybody's stuck in traffic. That's going to be the pattern for decades to come," Supervisor Corey A. Stewart (R-Occoquan) said.
Just three months ago, the Board of County Supervisors rejected a similar plan by developer John T. "Til" Hazel to erect four high-rises -- eight to 16 stories tall with a total of about 1,000 units -- overlooking the Potomac River.
Three years in the making, Hazel's plan died in a 6 to 2 vote after the supervisors voiced concerns about the area's congestion. Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge) and Board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R) cast the votes in support of the project.
Barg said the county should keep an open mind about the IDI Group's proposal, especially because officials want to curb sprawl and save open space. High-rises might be answer, she said. "If you listen to all the economists . . . you will hear them say you have to have the taller buildings accessible to transportation modes," Barg said. "What direction does the county want to grow?"
But Stewart predicts that Rivergate, with its planned shuttle to a VRE station, will meet the same fate as the Hazel project. "It doesn't help that it's luxury or not luxury. We don't have the transportation to support it," he said.
Carlos Cecchi, IDI's vice president, and lawyer Michael Lubeley, who is representing IDI, said that Rivergate would create less traffic than a family-filled subdivision, because it would likely attract empty nesters and professionals.
They also said Rivergate as well as the nearby luxury community of Belmont Bay and other high-end projects under development could provide the push necessary to improve Route 1.
"What it offers is a base for an upgrade," Lubeley said. "The county has an opportunity for north Woodbridge to experience a true revitalization."
If approved, each building would rise 15 stories, making them the tallest buildings in Prince William. The first would be completed in 2008 and others would follow in 2012, Cecchi said.