George Mason University at Innovation Park

George Mason University at Innovation Park

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors adopted a small-area plan for the Innovation Park area Tuesday night. 

The plan covers 1,760 acres around George Mason University’s Science and Technology Campus just outside Manassas and creates three overlay districts – an employment center, university center and technology center – using eight different land-use designations. The plan was adopted unanimously.

Presenting the plan to the board Tuesday night, Deputy Planning Director Steve Donohoe focused largely on the university center. The county hopes to turn the area surrounding GMU’s campus into a pedestrian-oriented mixed-use town center with student housing and office space, as well as a shuttle to and from the Broad Run Virginia Railway Express station. The plan also proposes a pedestrian bridge crossing Prince William Parkway on University Boulevard and an elementary school in the town center.

“We believe we have the start of the town center within George Mason’s campus already, and we want to capitalize that,” Donohue said, also referring to the Hylton Performing Arts Center as an anchor for the area. “It’s a mixed-use town center design. We’ve incorporated plazas and outdoor spaces because we think that’s an excellent thing.”

All told, the county’s planning department estimates that the Innovation Park district could eventually house between 19,917 and 38,392 jobs, as well as 2,392 to 3,997 homes. According to the plan, 696 people currently live in the study area.

The plan is the fourth the board has adopted since 2019, joining plans for North Woodbridge, Dale City and the Landing at Prince William. Five more are in the works.

“The primary focus of the Innovation Park Small Area Plan is to create a sustainable advanced science and technology academic and business community anchored around George Mason University Science and Technology Campus while also preserving existing natural resources,” the plan’s executive summary reads.

The plan sparked some discussion among board members of the potential for extending the VRE into Gainesville, including a stop near the GMU campus. The idea for a Gainesville/Haymarket extension was shelved in 2017 after an analysis showed that ridership numbers wouldn’t justify the cost. Instead, VRE decided to expand the Broad Run station.

Gainesville District Supervisor Pete Candland and Occoquan Supervisor Kenny Boddye expressed optimism that the calculus might change if the area around the campus becomes a hub for development. But Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, a member of the VRE operations board, said she doubted that with the state’s $3.7 billion investment into service along the Interstate 95 corridor, a Gainesville/Haymarket extension would ever come to be.

Board Chair Ann Wheeler said that with or without a new VRE station, the idea for the plan is to create a hub on the western part of the county for people to live and work close by.

“Maybe people are driving a mile to work, but they’re only driving a mile to work, or maybe they’re riding their bike. The idea is to make this corridor really job-heavy,” Wheeler said.

The only public commenters who spoke at the plan’s hearing did so in support of it, but it did meet some opposition before the meeting. Resident advocacy group Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth, which typically opposes development within the county on the grounds of traffic and school crowding, rehashed those objections in an email.

“Chair Wheeler has proposed that at the Tuesday … meeting, 10 days before Christmas when county citizens are focused on other things, to push through the biggest plan yet to overcrowd Brentsville District schools and clog traffic in Brentsville and Coles Districts along Rte. 28,” the email read.

Jared Foretek covers the Manassas area and regional news across Northern Virginia. Reach him at jforetek@insidenova.com

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Jared Foretek covers the Manassas area and regional news across Northern Virginia. Reach him at jforetek@insidenova.com

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