Planning Commission Approves Birkwood at Braemar

| September 19, 2014 | 1 Comment | News

A representative presents to the Prince William Planning Commission on behalf of the Birkwood development.

The Prince William Planning Commission voted 6-2 Wednesday night to recommend the Board of County Supervisors approve Birkwood at Braemar. That Bristow community would consist of 39 townhomes and 13 single family homes.

The applicant, Brookfield Homes, is requesting the county change its land-use designation for the 7.36 acre property behind Braemar Village Shopping Plaza from commercial/retail to high-medium residential and is requesting the approval of the Birkwood community.

The property is the east side of Sudley Manor Drive. Braemar proper borders it to the north and New Castle Village to the south.

The Planning Commission is an advisory board and the Board of County Supervisors will have the final vote on approval of the community.

Commercial Center Less Successful than Anticipated

Jay Du Von, the attorney representing Brookfield Homes, explained that Braemar was built in 1990. Since that time, many aspects of the Bristow community have changed.

When the Braemar Village Shopping Center was initially built, it ended at the intersection of Linton Hall Road. However, when the county realigned Linton Hall Road, the shopping center no longer had direct access to traffic along the Linton Hall Corridor.

As a result, while the Regency Center has remained a viable neighborhood shopping center, but Du Von explained it never evolved into the hub of the Linton Hall Corridor as Brookfield Homes expected. New shopping centers built in Bristow and Gainesville also made it more difficult for Braemar Village Plaza to expand its retail and commercial center. Since commercial space was difficult to fill, 7.36 acres remained an empty lot for nearly 25 years, Du Von explained.

Brookfield Faces Initial Opposition from Residents

With all the difficulty Brookfield had attracting new commercial businesses, it also faced opposition from existing residents when they learned that Brookfield wanted to change the land designation last spring.Residents originally turned out in droves to protest Birkwood at Braemar. As a result, the proposal Brookfield presented before the Planning Commission on September 18 was vastly changed from their initial proposal.

According to Du Von, Brookfield hoped Birkwood would be a “life-style center” consisting of condominiums and totaling 98 dwelling units. Working with residents, the proposal was scaled back to only 52 homes with none of them being condominiums.

Brookfield also incorporated property modifications in their design to address the residents’ primary concerns: traffic, parking and matching the existing community.The two styles of single-family homes now matched with that of the existing communities, as do the two-car garage townhomes.

Residents were relatively satisfied with the changes as evidenced by the fact that only a few people turned out to protest Birkwood at the public hearing. Futhermore, many of those who had objections sited specific elements of the planning rather than objecting to Birkwood in its entirety.

Features of Birkwood

With the new Birkwood community would come proffers of streetscape along Sudley Manor Drive and landscaped buffers between Birkwood and New Castle Village and Birkwood and Braemar. The single-family homes are planned to be located to the north and south adjacent to the other communities, while the town homes would be isolated to the center of the property. Landscape buffers are thinner on the east and west sides of the property but Du Von said this was necessary to create additional guest parking.

Parking was a feature that existing residents requested. Although all of the homes would have two-car garages and double driveways, residents noted that most people do not park their cars in their garages, but use them as storage. As a result, parking spills onto the streets. Since their communities are already short on parking spaces, they wanted to make sure there would be ample parking at Birkwood so Birkwood residents would not park in mature communities. Du Von said the community would provide 100 parking spaces above that which the county requires.

New Traffic Patterns

There was also the question of entrances into and exits from the community. In this regard, Brookfield tried to compromise, creating access for new residents while trying to discourage shoppers from cutting through residential neighborhoods.There would be only one entrance onto Birkwood from Sudley Manor Drive and it would require drivers to make a right into the community when driving north along Sudley Manor Drive. Otherwise, Birkwood residents driving southbound could make a left at the light into the shopping center, and then turn onto the connecting road to Birkwood.

Residents of the senior community, Dunbarton, another subdivision of Braemar, were concerned that more people would make illegal U-turns in Dunbarton rather than waiting at the light.

The applicant also wants to create a direct vehicular connection between Braemar Village Center and Newcastle Village. The road would be narrow enough that Du Von believes it will discourage most drive-through traffic. Should these easement not be offered, there is an alternative route planned. Because a tot-lot would be near one of the new roads, the planning commission recommends calming measures along the road to slow traffic.

Monetary & School Proffers

In terms of monetary proffers, the applicant offered less than what is required by the new proffers. Although they are not technically required to meet the new county requirements, a few commissioners suggested the applicant offer an increase especially in regards to school proffers. They said this was important because schools in the Braemar area are very over-crowded.

Du Von noted that Brookfield already proffered school sites back in the 90s. They provided sites for Marsteller, an elementary school and even sold the Patriot High School site at cost to the school division. However, Commissioner Chairman Austin Haynes said developers should not simply refer to past proffers when building additional homes.

The applicant offered a school proffer of $14,462 for every single-family detached dwelling and $11,685 for each attached dwelling. However, new proffers require $20,694 in school proffers for a single-family home, and $17,489 for a townhouse. The applicant falls short of the new proffer standards for fire and rescue, parks and recreation and library proffers as well. However, Brookfield Homes offer $1,000 above the new proffer requirements for transportation.

Du Von noted that Birkwood at Braemar would become part of Braemar or at the very least gain access to its pools and parks. He also noted they had bought and donated another large park to the county in previous years.

Citizen’s Time

Fewer citizens turned out to speak during citizen’s time than one would have expected based on the community outcry months ago. The Planning Commission took this as a testament to Brookfield Home’s commitment to working with the community, and also to mean they had ultimately succeeded in appeasing most community members.

One big concern residents still had was U-turns in Dunbarton. Another was there was not enough being offered to the school system. One citizen said that Brookfield had known for a long time about the Linton Hall rerouting and that was no excuse to see a land-use change. One man questions why every bit of land in the county has to be developed, and asked would it not serve the residents if the land were to become a park or playing field.

Republican candidate for supervisor Jeanine Lawson said she shared concerns about overcrowded schools, EMT response times and traffic, but applauded the developer for working with community members.

One man said it would be better to develop the land than to let it sit empty, and he liked what Brookfield had done with Braemar in creating a visually pleasing community.

Making the Decision

Planning Commissioner Chairman Austin Haynes said this was a particularly difficult decision. He had concerns about setting a precedent that developers could request land-use changes when things did not go as planned.

“I absolutely hate the idea that it is a proffer change. I don’t like proffer changes, and I am a developer myself,” Haynes said.

On the other hand, Haynes said he liked that the applicant was able to work closely with the communities in the area and make many of the modifications residents requested. He also pointed out that residents had been opposed to Firestone being built along Sudley Manor Drive, but that would have helped to grow the shopping center.

Commissioner Ron Burgess of the Brentsville district said he was in favor of the development but offered some recommendations to the Board of County Supervisors about the project.

“I don’t like resting on past laurels, but this has laid fallow for a long time… I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask the applicant to look at the new proffer rate for schools,” Burgess said.

Burgess also wanted traffic calming near the tot-lot. He said perhaps a sign for the shopping center would cut down on some of the U-turns in Dunbarton.

When it was time to vote, it was almost unanimous. But then Kim Hosen of the Occoquan district voted “no,” then Haynes, who had the last vote, also voted “no.”The motion passed. Hosen said she did not like that developers could change previously agreed upon land designations.

The Board of County Supervisors will have the final deciding vote on whether or not Brookfield Homes can build the community.

© 2014, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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  1. KuroHouou says:

    Once again, building before infrastructure. Selling out to builders.. We need to take these new housing developments to the voters before they are approved, to make sure enough money and planning is coming into the infrastructure before anything is built anymore!

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