Map proposed Preserve at Long Branch

Map of the proposed Preserve at Long Branch development site in Prince William County.  

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors removed two critical hurdles for a plan to build 99 homes on land that’s currently part of the county’s “Rural Crescent,” clearing the way for what’s being dubbed The Preserve at Long Branch development in two early-morning votes Wednesday.

Over objections from the three Republicans who represent the western part of the county that includes the protected rural area, the board voted 5-3 to approve a comprehensive plan amendment and a rezoning application from developer Mark Granville-Smith to allow for increased density at the development site. The rezoning changed the designation of the project’s 340 acres from agricultural to semi-rural residential, although currently the land is unfarmed and most is undeveloped and wooded.

The land is, however, a part of what the county has designated the rural area, which has restrictive land use designations and a limit of one home per 10 acres of land. 

Under the developer’s plans, no new land would be added into the rural area for additional future protections. But to make up for the 167 acres developed with the additional density, 170 acres would be donated to the county as parkland, with a public access point to the Occoquan River, south of Lake Jackson. All told, the area, generally known as the "Rural Crescent," covers roughly 117,000 acres, or 52% of the county’s land mass. 

During Tuesday night’s board meeting, most community members speaking in opposition to the development expressed concerns about traffic, overcrowding in schools, and a loss of the Rural Crescent’s less-developed character that was laid out when the county formally created the designation in 1998. They also expressed a fear that if the board designated even small parts of the area for denser development with sewer access, a slippery slope would quickly lead to further encroachment of the county’s rural land and the infiltration of its waterways. 

Others said that the development failed on the smart growth criteria the county adopted in its last comprehensive plan due to a lack of public transit access and walkability. County planning staff recommended rejection of the amendment, in part on that basis. The county’s planning commission voted against both the comprehensive plan amendment and the rezoning application.

Other concerns of opponents have included an increase in commuter traffic on Dumfries Road, an increase of vehicle traffic to access to the proposed park area, the potential for through traffic between Classic Springs Road and Classic Lakes Way, the potential impact to the water table and existing wells in nearby residential areas, the potential impact to the local school population and the impact on the local wildlife population, according to a staff review.

Coles District Supervisor Yesli Vega, whose district includes the project site, called the approval “unethical.”

“We’ve been told that this is a unique situation, it is not. It is only unique in the sense that it doesn’t replace acreage in the Rural Crescent, it just takes from it,” she said. “The development proposal does not match the current comprehensive plan or any other comprehensive plans over the last 22 years. … Why would we break our own rules just to make an exception for million-dollar homes?”

Granville-Smith and his attorney indicated that homes in the development would be priced at $750,000 and up. 

Although fewer in number, the members of the public speaking in favor of the project lauded the potential for the public park space and access to the Occoquan River, which county Parks, Recreation and Tourism staff said is currently lacking. Some supporters also said that allowing more density in small pockets of the Rural Crescent would ultimately help to preserve the larger remaining area. 

Democrats who voted in favor of the proposal said that the western part of the county needed to shoulder more of the burden of the county’s development, and that having so much of the area blocked off from development isn’t balanced. 

“Equity is not preserving a certain spot in our county and then placing the development … in other areas of the county,” Potomac District Supervisor Andrea Bailey said. “For me, equity is balancing that development.”

Board Chair Ann Wheeler said that she wanted to preserve open space in the county, but space that was publicly accessible rather than limited to the homeowners in the area only.

“The decisions that were made 20 years ago to put development only into certain areas of the county in many ways has been harmful. … By saying we have exclusionary zoning throughout the western end of the county, it affects the entire county,” she added. “I campaigned on open space accessible to everyone throughout the county and not just a few people.”

A number of supervisors questioned the developers’ plan to build a sewage system operated by the Prince William County Service Authority. The comprehensive plan and a 2014 Rural Preservation Study Report call for strictly limiting such access. But on Tuesday, Granville-Smith and his attorney said that the sewage system would be built in such a way that would make it difficult for additional developments to piggy-back off its access in the future, and that this development on its own made up just a small amount of the overall rural area land.

"We have to make sure that we defend the rural area tonight by not allowing the sewer line to go out there,” Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson said before the vote. “If we allow the sewer line to go out there tonight, I guarantee this is just going to be the first domino that’s going to fall. There’s going to be other applications going to this board and we’re going to see what I would call a spider network or network.”

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

Reporter

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

(15) comments

Jack Print

Stating that the Rural Crescent is 52% of the County gives the impression that a small number of people live on more than half the County's land. This is false. Included in the once-Rural-Crescent is the Quantico Marine base, the Manassas Battlefield Park and Prince William Forest Park. Unless you believe that you can build housing developments on a Marine Base or in a National Park, this leaves considerably less than 52% of the County available for housing within the Rural Crescent. While your article may be technically correct, it certainly gives the reader a very false impression and should be corrected.

Sharon Fontanella

Chair Wheeler is already attacking the citizens who spoke up against The Preserve. While the board is making unilateral decisions and ignoring the county staff, Planning Commission and citizens, the Chair has the audacity to characterize the public as misinformed or ignorant. We should not stand for this kind of leadership, or lack thereof, in our county. Citizens, this is a clarion call to stand up and continue to fight back against tyranny of any kind on any level. Do not be bullied into silence or submission on these matters. We choose to live here and be involved in our local government. Elected officials who openly dismiss or ignore the input of well informed government agencies and officials, and the public whom they serve should be ashamed and ousted. Say no to backroom deals and hidden agendas.

Lance Livestrong

Your very on point, but you cant vett honesty....You either have it in you or you dont, and most of the politicians who get elected are already performing the backroom deals before they are even elected....its government, thats the only place you can get away with it, or else youd be fired elsewhere. We're just dumb enough to fund it!

Sic Semper Tyrannis doesnt mean a damn thing to these people, but it did have meaning once upon a time though...

missinct

Bottom line, the Supervisors that supported this development ignored the recommendations of The Planning Commission, PWC School Board, Marine Base Quantico and the pleas of countless citizens from across the county. Supervisor Boydde went back on his pledge which garnered him a lot of support and likely funding during the election. Yes, Supervisors have to make hard decision but this was a party line and "stick it to you" vote. The Supervisors from the East seized their opportunity to stick it Mid County. This is just the start folks. To anyone living in the RC or Semi Rural area...your days are numbered. This board doesn't want input regardless of the source. Chair Wheeler runs the show and she made her opinion known at the end of the meeting when she suggested that residents that didn't support this development we uninformed. Residents have been fighting this developer for years - we are informed.

Roger Snyder

The Virginia General Assembly has long resisted enabling local governments to make zoning matters subject to public referendum. Why? Because, state lawmakers know that people are inherently selfish. "We the people" don't want more kids in our schools and more cars on our roads. We have our castles, so it's time to raise the drawbridges. Yes, the vast majority of people who spoke and wrote about the Preserve at Long Branch were against the proposal for a wide variety of reasons. Yes, if there had been a public referendum, the proposal would have been defeated soundly ..... probably. However, we elect our Supervisors to make many difficult decisions, often in the headwinds of citizen opposition. Such was the case with these land use proposals. However, the applicant made a cogent and compelling case for this infill plan and development. Sound planning principles were incorporated. Reasonable property rights were respected. Painting all elected officials with the broad brush of "being on the take", if only for campaign contributions, is overly simplistic, often untrue and unfair and "is getting old".

anoldsoldier

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was Occoquan Supervisor Kenny Boddye's vote. Boddye had been an outspoken supporter of the rural crescent, and even ran on a platform of protecting it. Numerous citizens had been concerned in advance of the vote when he refused to meet with them on the topic. The evening of the meeting, after the public hearing started, several citizens received emails from his Chief of Staff stating new considerations had come into play, and he now supported the project. This in advance of the completion of the public hearing and staff presentation....indicating that he had already flipped and made his decision...in advance of hearing the concerns of the citizens. A couple of conclusions can be drawn from this: first, Mr Boddye, like too many politicians, does not feel wed to his campaign promises; second, that his loyalty is to the democratic "party line" instead of the citizens in the county, and third, that he is a coward who chose not only to absence himself physically from the meeting, but also to avoid even text or email contact from his constituents and supporters...many of whom helped elect him. I refer you to the video of Mr. Boddye targeting Ruth Anderson during his campaign, and making the promises that he just broke. http://thederecho.blogspot.com/2020/07/lest-you-forget-kenny-you-beat-ruth.html

Sharon Fontanella

The Rural Crescent is not an exclusionary zone. It is not a gated community. There is a mix of socio-economic residents and workforce (affordable) housing in the area. I would argue the name of this part of the county is now pejorative and misrepresents the intent and character it. This recent characterization of the citizens opposed to luxury housing being built in the Rural Crescent represents a misguided socialist agenda in this county. I encourage citizens from all over the county to drive through the Rural Crescent and explore what it has to offer everyone. Meet the people who live there. See for yourself before buying into the ugly rhetoric. Residents are trying to protect the environment and the county from becoming a paved urban jungle like Fairfax County. Enjoy the parks and bucolic scenery. Check out the agricultural and arts businesses in the Rural Crescent. Support small businesses. Buy fresh farm produce. The decision to support luxury housing by way of The Preserve at Long Branch is a political agenda and has nothing to do with protecting the nature of the county or serving its citizens. It is apparent that the voice of experience and recommendations of the county planning staff and the appointed and independent Planning Commission are null and void. The Board of County Supervisors act life a self-serving almost Communist cabal ignoring the interests of the public while pursuing a divisive political agenda. Citizens across the county beware. One supervisor vowed to protect the Rural Crescent in his campaign yet voted for this development under the guise of a park which will serve mostly the residents of the development. The park with limited access and nothing more than a walking trail because of the steep terrain is smoke and mirrors intended to cover the effort to open the door to rich luxury development in the Rural Crescent. Those on the board who voted for this development are environmentalists in name only and are self-serving rather than serving the community at large.

Lance Livestrong

Very well said, thank you for this!

[thumbup]

However, its a shame also in my opinion (Too late now, the backdeal room deal maker C.S. is long gone now) that the entirety of the county should have been more strict as it relates to residential development. The non-stop traffic speaks for its self. Im sure their whole m.o. was and always will be I-95 and U.S. 1 corridor=more potential commuters. Has nothing to do with preservation of land, air, and sea. The R.C. is a good idea, but other strategies similar to it should have been implemented long ago on the eastern side of the county. Its over-developed, and it shows. And it costs the tax-payer an arm and a leg to maintain the quality of the roads.

Maybe they should have just put the historical themed disney-world in P.W. to begin with with still preserving the R.C......but it probably would have been burned to the ground by now due to cancel CULTure and ignorance. But hey, better than ruined farmland or deforestation I suppose...

[lol]

Lumen

PWC long ago looked at the ugly, crowed sprawl in nearby counties and decided on a different path.

Up until now we have defended this plan against the ability of developer money and political power to bend our government to their needs. That ended today.

The precedent is set and PWC will now have to show why all new exceptions to the Rural Crescent Plan should not be approved or explain favoring this one developer.

MacAuley

This was an exceptionally long and bitter hearing. Seven hours, from 7:30 pm to about 2:30 am. There must have been about 50 speakers, including the Zoom virtual speakers. Supervisor Vega held a huge stack of emails that had been received on the rezoning. Despite very heavy citizen opposition a majority of the Board voted for it anyway.

Stephanie Richardson

Why am I not surprised? The Board does at the pleases without any regard to the citizens. More opposed than were in favor, but once again, it did not matter to those who have a majority vote. Wonder how many of proposals are ever rejected. Wonder what is in it for the members voting in favor for developers and not the citizens they are supposed to represent....who voted for these members? So sad.

AlfredP

LOL .. now it will take 45 mins just to get to 66 -- what happened to green spaces, affordable housing, climate change, Chesapeake Bay watershed, environmental impact etc. .. and all the other political buzz words ? American citizens are getting robbed on every level. Wake up people.

truthurtz

Like everything else, follow the money.

LKirby

Kudos to the Republicans who care about the environment! The residents argument is strong. I believe the time has come for our representatives to seriously consider when their area is at capacity for reasonable living. Before the balance of residents. green space, and reasonable traffic flow etc.is surpassed, time to stop building. It looks like that is the case here. There are capacity limits on many spaces. Time to add residential areas to the list of places with capacity limits!

Fake_News2

Aren’t democrats supposed to be for conservation and the “environment”?

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