Prince William County leaders are hoping to find momentum in 2019 to change a state law limiting demands placed on developers to address the impacts a development will have on the community.
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors approved a new legislative wish list Nov. 27, in time for the new General Assembly session, which begins Jan. 9. The board had a chance to appeal directly to the county’s legislative leaders at a meeting Dec. 4.
At the top: amending or repealing a 2016 state law that prevents localities from asking for “unreasonable” proffers, or at least exempting localities in Northern Virginia from the law.
Proffers are cash or in-kind offers from developers to a municipality to mitigate impacts on transportation, schools, fire and rescue and other services that are expected to result from proposed developments. The 2016 law applies to any residential rezoning application submitted after July 1, 2016.
“It’s really limited our ability to work with an applicant to try to deliver a high quality community in cooperation with our citizens,” said Chris Price, a deputy county executive for community development. “[The law has made it] very difficult to negotiate, very difficult to have basic conversations about what needs are in the community.”
Supervisor Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, said changing the state law regarding proffers is the county’s biggest legislative issue.
“We feel like legislation is hurting smart growth in our county,” she said. “Hopefully this year or next year, we’ll see change enough to bring us back to reasonable capabilities for us to talk to developers so we can explain what our needs are.”
The county hasn’t approved any rezoning applications for houses for applications submitted after 2016, board Chairman Corey Stewart said.
“We’re stuck,” he said. “That’s why we haven’t approved a single house under the new law.”
In the last decade, Prince William County has seen about 1,000 to 1,500 new homes built per year, Price said. Of those houses, a few dozen to a couple hundred per year were rezonings.
The Home Builders Association of Virginia lobbied in 2016 for the changes to state law. This year the association has worked with local government leaders to find a middle ground in the form of possible amendments to the law in the 2019 session, said Andrew Clark, the association’s vice president of government affairs.
Part of the association’s proposed changes to the law would allow for greater communication between developers and local government leaders about the impact of the proposed development, Clark said, adding that the association is also proposing more flexibility for developers and local government leaders to negotiate offsite proffers, which are currently limited or prohibited by the 2016 law.
Association members and local government leaders have said the 2016 law restricted communication between developers and local leaders, Clark said.
“Those conversations are not just for the developer, it’s really for the county to look out for the adjacent neighborhoods and the broader community,” he said. “So, any good land use discussion isn’t done in a vacuum. You’ve got to have that back and forth between the community, the applicant and the county if you’re going to get a good project.”
Clark said he would rather allow for more communication between developers and localities than exempt specific areas of Virginia from the law. He said he hopes they can find a compromise this session.
State Sen. Richard Stuart, R-28th District, introduced two bills related to residential development, which will be considered this upcoming session. SB 208 proposes changes to the law to allow localities to determine impact fees if they’re included as part of costs for public facilities in its comprehensive plan. Impact fees are assessed on every development unit developed whereas proffers are only made by applicants seeking rezoning approval, according to the county’s 2019 legislative priorities.
SB 944 proposes to replace cash proffers with comprehensive impact fees. Localities will still be able to accept other kinds of proffers, which would still be subject to the 2016 law, according to the county’s legislative priorities.
The board of supervisors want to see the legislation amended to exempt the region's planning district, or to have it repealed and have a legislative study address the issue, county spokesperson Jason Grant said.
If the legislature decides to replace cash proffers with impact fees, the county board would support the change if localities can still negotiate for non-cash proffers for site-specific considerations, such as buffers and community design features, according to the county’s priorities.
“I hope everyone will stick with me on this and keep pushing for these two bills,” Stuart said.
Del. Danica Roem, D-13th District, said she is concerned the county doesn’t have adequate school, roads and other infrastructure to address current needs, and that problem has to be resolved before the county approves new houses.
“The buzzword tonight was mitigate, but the goal should be offsetting the negative impacts of growth,” she said. “We got into the problem we have because of the old proffer law. Prince William County approved too many homes for decades before we had the existing, adequate infrastructure to support them, especially schools and roads. We need a time out.”