Last night the Prince William County Planning Commission approved the 1650-home Bristow community, Stone Haven, to be located along Devlin Road and the corresponding rezoning of 864.2 acres from agricultural to low density residential, mixed use retail and planned business district.
The Planning Commission is an advisory board to the Board of County Supervisor, meaning board approval is required before the development can move forward.
As Chairman At-Large Austin Haynes noted, the Stone Haven plan certainly had its pros and cons. On one hand, it provides generous, much-needed proffers to the community. On the other hand, it would move in 1650 new families who would require an increase to county services.
The applicant, Hunter Trust, agreed to proffer more than $20 million above the new proffer requirements, which have not even taken effect yet. These proffers include several acres on which to build a new sorely needed high school. It would also aid in the completion of key access roads Rollins Ford and University Boulevard. It provides land for ball parks and fields, or possibly the location for a new middle school. Meanwhile, it preserves open space, and extends the network of nature /bike trails that run through Braemar and Victory Lakes.
Additionally, the applicant will extend sidewalks along Linton Hall Road, create green buffers between different land uses and even neighboring communities.
Other aspects that planning commissioners liked was that the residential portion of Stone Haven aligns nicely with existing communities located on the north side of Linton Hall.
As for the other portions of the community, the business park will be located on the more industrial corridor of Wellington Road, and retail would be located to the northwest side of the property.
At the beginning of the meeting, Peter Dolan, attorney for Hunter Trust, explained that the developer met with community members and included residents’ designs in their plans.
However, despite public input, Brentsville residents remain divided on the issue of Stone Haven. Planning commissioners approximated that 2/3 of speakerss spoke in favor of the development, but it may have been closer margins than that. (We estimate 18:15 speakers in favor vs. against. However, not all of the speakers reside in the Brentsville District.)
Residents Speak in Favor of Development
Some north Bristow residents explained that they wanted Stone Haven developed to prevent the area from being rezoned industrial. Parents spoke about the dire need for ball fields and a new high school.
One man questioned what was wrong with having more people move into the neighborhood.
“What would you rather see a dump truck or a soccer mom? People? What’s wrong with people? Braemar, Piedmont: these are great places,” he said.
One woman said that increasing populations could help support local small businesses in the area.
Others Opposed New Development
However, there were also a significant number of people who asked that the project be delayed or cancelled outright.
One woman said that if more development was the answer to providing more schools, roads and fields, then Prince William would be caught up by now. Most said that more people would just bring more overcrowding to schools and roads.
Others said that when new people move in, existing residents assume an additional tax burden.
One man claimed to quote Board of County Supervisor Corey Stewart in saying, “When we approve large development, we are essentially approving a tax increase.” He said Stewart had changed his tune on development, but he doubts Stewart's motivation for that change.
Some said the process was not as inclusive as the developer would have people believe. Many Bristow and Gainesville neighborhoods had not been invited to the Stone Haven meetings in the summer of 2012. And the meetings were not town hall-style forums. Instead, residents were told to write their concerns on sticky notes.
There was also concern that the retail element would never happen since many current retailers are struggling.
Commissioner Review Plan Details
Commissioners were concerned with the details of the plan, such as whether homes were being built too close together, which could be a fire hazard. The commission decided not to advise the supervisors to grant the developer permission to build the homes only 10 feet from one another, and will advise they hold them to the standard 20-foot space.
Commissioner Edgar Bruce Holley of the Neabsco District felt the lots were just too small in general.
“I can’t support this at all. The residential lots are so teeny; they are disgraceful. I live in Dale City. I am on a quarter acre lot. I just can’t see the size of the lots in your residential portion. You have some wonderful, wonderful things in this project, but they do not address the residential situation here. I see people living in a cellblock.”
However, Brentsville Commissioner Ron Burgess disagreed. He said many people prefer smaller lots as it makes for less upkeep.
The applicant also clarified that power lines would not run along parks or fields.
Vote on the Community
Ultimately, the Commission voted 5:2 in favor of the project and of changing the land designation. Haynes abstained from both votes. Holley and Occoquan’s Kim Hosen both voted against Stone Haven.
Haynes Believe the Development is Promising
After the vote, Haynes summarized what he felt was most promising about the project, saying the landowners reached out the community.
“There was two years of notification on this project. Yes, there were certain communities not invited. only had to invite people living 200 feet away, so they definitely went above that call,” he said.
He also said it is very significant that the School Board unanimously approved of the project.
"We just don’t see that," Haynes said.
Burgess described the plans as one of the most generous packages he has ever seen during his time on the commission.
One commissioner said that while there is always disagreement among citizens, he felt reassured that the majority of people in attendance were in favor of the development.
He reminded folks again that the decision of his council is only advisory.
Upon checking our numbers 17 citizens spoke in favor of the project and 12 spoke against it. There may be a few that were unaccounted for in Bristow Beat's notes.