The Virginia Senate approved a bill Tuesday to restrict what local governments can ask homebuilders to do to offset the impact of their developments, setting up far-reaching reforms to the state’s so-called proffer system.
The bill passed 29 to 8 after a heated debate between the bill’s sponsors and senators from Northern Virginia, who argued that it would interfere with local efforts to keep new development from overwhelming some communities.
“I think this is micromanaging in an area where we really don’t understand what’s going on,” said Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax). He said city and county lawmakers and zoning officials should decide what to demand from developers, rather than the state.
The proffer system was designed to get developers to pay for new streets, sewers or sidewalks to serve the people who live in the large residential complexes the developers would be building. The system has since evolved to include proffers for new athletic fields, school computers and cash that can be used for affordable housing or other community needs.
Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Rockingham), one of the bill’s sponsors, said the legislation is meant to curb the use of proffers for amenities that are not directly related to what is being built. “It makes the system more fair and it reverts back to a system like we intended it to be,” said Obenshain, who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax).
The Senate bill requires that proffers be limited to offsetting impacts that are directly attributable to new residential developments or new uses for existing developments. Local governments could also require developers to offset the impact to off-site public facilities — such as a sewer system — but only if the builder’s new development also would benefit from the improvement.
The legislation does not apply to high-density areas, commercial developments or neighborhoods near Metrorail stations.
The Senate bill will next be reconciled with a House version of the legislation that also passed last week — with the final product headed to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office to be signed into law.
Opponents say it could have a “chilling effect” on how development occurs in some rapidly growing areas.
Anthony Howard, president of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, said a lot of the amenities that have gone into a successful mixed-use development in Ashburn would not be possible under the legislation. For example, as part of the proffer package for One Loudoun, developers of the site agreed to add an interchange at Route 7 and Ashburn Village Boulevard, about two miles away.
“That would not be allowed under the context of this bill,” Howard said.
Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors,said she hopes to change some of the legislation’s requirements before it’s signed into law. “I’m disappointed we were not able to convince the General Assembly how bad this bill really is,” Bulova said. “Fairfax County will continue to do every thing we can to limit the damage done today.”