Will another apartment complex spark a long-awaited revitalization of North Woodbridge – or just more traffic and school overcrowding?

That was the crux of the debate Tuesday, when the Prince William County Board of Supervisors considered a redesign of Rivergate, a development of up to 720 apartments proposed for the Occoquan Reservoir waterfront that was initially approved back in 2005 but shelved for nine years because of the recession.

Although once touted as a premier project that would breathe new life into an area beset by used car lots and blighted strip malls, Rivergate came under fire in recent months because many considered its more modest new design – three five-story buildings instead of 15-story high rises – just more of the same along an increasingly apartment-clogged U.S. 1 corridor.

Supervisor Frank Principi, a Democrat who represents the Woodbridge district where Rivergate will be built, agreed and lobbied hard for residents to speak out against the project. Sixteen residents complied, some of whom complained about two-hour commutes to Washington and 45-minute trips to the grocery store, all because U.S. 1 is already “a traffic nightmare.”

School Board members Loree Williams and Lillian Jessie, who represent the eastern Prince William magisterial districts most affected by the new apartments – also urged the board to reject developer IDI Management’s revised proposal for Rivergate, saying existing school buildings can’t handle hundreds of new residents.

But a majority of supervisors said they see the project differently.

In a 5 to 2 vote – with Principi and Supervisor Mike May, R-Occoquan, dissenting – the board approved the new Rivergate plan, saying it is the county’s best shot for the redevelopment needed in North Woodbridge.

Supervisor Marty Nohe, R-Coles, who made the motion to approve after Principi refused, said he grew up in North Woodbridge and wants to see it developed into something the county can be proud of.

“If we kick Rivergate out of here tonight, the message will be to anyone who’s thinking about building retail, or office, or commercial, or mixed-use that Prince William County Board of Supervisors is not committed to this area, is not committed to quality development,” Nohe said. “I think this is the development that’s going to inspire the kind of commercial development we need by setting the standard.”

Nohe’s motion was seconded by Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, R-Potomac, who said it’s the Woodbridge district’s turn for redevelopment along U.S. 1.

Board Chairman Corey Stewart, R-At Large, agreed, insisting that high-quality commercial development would only occur if the county greenlights more residential building first.

Stewart also acknowledged that he was the only board member to vote against the project in 2005, a decision he said was wrong because he “didn’t understand” then that government can’t dictate commercial development when the market can’t support it.

“It’s the laws of economics,” he added. “We can’t dictate that someone build offices.”

As an example, Stewart mentioned Potomac Town Center at Stonebridge, which he said only happened because Potomac Club, a mix of apartments and town homes, was built first.

“I voted against that, too,” Stewart said. “That was a mistake, too. You know why? Because it was the Potomac Club and the residential that led to Stonebridge, which is anchored by the Wegmans, which has led to all sorts of other retail. And now we’re getting medical office space and the whole thing is taking off. The whole Route 1 corridor is booming.”

Stewart said he “has a lot of respect” for concerns expressed by opponents and school board members but said residents surely don’t want North Woodbridge to remain the way it is now, adding: “Sometimes you’ve just got to take the plunge and move forward.”

Prior to the vote, about a dozen speakers – including business owners Terry Quinn, of Quinn’s Goldsmith, and Nelson Head, of Dixie Bones – agreed with that sentiment, noting that more residents would spur more commercial growth.

“This new development is quality. It will be the first impression that people see when they come into Prince William County,” Quinn said. “This is what we want to attract, quality businesses, quality people. Look at Wegmans, look at Stonebridge. That’s quality. We want more quality in our county.”

Mike Lubeley, the attorney for IDI Management, said the board’s rejection would not necessarily stop apartments from coming, since 720 had already been approved back in 2005.

But in an interview after the meeting, Lubeley said new post-recession financing rules would likely keep the previously planned high rises from being built in the near-term, which is why IDI altered its plans.

“The financing for that type of project eroded completely with the new credit standards the government’s imposed,” Lubeley said, adding that such high-rise projects are really only economically feasible in higher-priced downtown markets.

Still, Lubeley said the new building is preferable to the old design in many ways, including new provisions for scenic streetscapes for both Annapolis and Marina ways.

“Most people, if they objectively look at both designs, say they like the new one better,” Lubeley said.

Principi said his office would continue to work toward the vision of a “New Woodbridge” despite his disagreement with the board’s decision for his district, which he said will likely see almost 10,000 new apartments in coming years.

But he noted that supervisors would likely have to consider new taxes to deal with additional school, traffic and fire and rescue needs as a result.

“We’re going to be saddled with more apartments and more traffic and more school overcrowding,” he added. “How is the board going to deal with that? I don’t know. Are we going to have to raise taxes next spring to deal with the lack of infrastructure in the district? I don’t know.”

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(9) comments

drew23

All these comments about "cheap" apartments are so off base. These "cheap" apartments will probably rent for $1300-1400 per month. How can a new luxury apartment complex be worse than the wasteland that is there now - boarded up gas stations, welfare hotels, auto body repair shops, etc.

John Sebastian

Cheap has nothing to do with rent, it has to do with construction quality and the net outcome it provides the neighboring area. The main gripe with this proposal was that the developer scrapped high-rise condos that not only would've brought people with more community involvement due to their investments, but provided an impressive gateway into the county, then replaced it with low-rise apartments, all while keeping the same measly proffers from 2005.

"Luxury apartment" is nothing more than a salespitch. The developer does the legal minimum on construction and soundproofing and makes up for it by slapping in some crown molding or granite countertops, then charges above-market rates and calls it "luxury". The reason why people overpay for these apartments is because they either are very transient or can't secure financing for a home.

How many of these "luxury" apartment complexes end up trashed within 10 years? Builders like IDI and Johnson Development Associates love to say they are only attracting high-earning singles with their lovely amenities, but as time goes on their claims turn out to be a joke, their complexes turn into dumps filled with even more kids for our overcrowded schools.

HesCool

Will you guys ever stop whining about new developments? I actually think this is good and can make Woodbridge much better. I think you must be the criminals that run the old parts of Woodbridge to complain...

bugmenot

HesCool, Let me break it down to you: This development is tax-negative, that means it will require the rest of the county to pay more taxes to sustain these apartments. This development will have 720 cheap rental units. That means at least 1500 new cars added to one of the most congested bottlenecks in the county. That means at least 1000 ( I think much more) children added to schools that already are filled to capacity. Prince William already has the highest teacher to student ratio in the entire Commonwealth. What do you think 1000 more kids added to that ratio is going to do to our children's education? That means that the Rt 1 corridor which already has the longest wait time for fire and rescue response will get even longer.


Also the location this is going to be built is the "gateway" to the county and millions and millions of cars crossing into the county are going to see some cheap "garden style" apartments for the next 100 years. This location should of been zoned to stop something that is going to only get worse and more run down looking like the cheap apartments the BOCS approved.

Lastly, you need to multiply this by 10 and you can see what is happening up and down the Rt 1. corridor.

bugmenot

This is just another example as to why Pete Candland could not be trusted to be the County Chairman. He has absolutely zero regard for the "lower" people that live in the Eastern side of the county.

sickandtired

This development is beyond disgusting!!! There are so many new homes, condo's, apartments and townhouses going up now; which increases the tax base but of course no word on our taxes going down any time soon for homeowner's. Now, we get to foot the bill for more road repair, due to the increased number of autos, pay higher taxes for the influx of more students and services AND this isn't even mentioning the large stores coming to our area such as Gander Mountain and the new Tile store across from the Mall. I would be very interested to learn what tax credit they were offered to come here while our roads become more and more congested from outsiders traveling in to these stores. Wouldn't be so bad if we could reap some benefit too in lower taxes. With this influx of housing, current homeowners in the area aren't able to sell their homes and compete with the new ones on the market now. Five years from now, those new homeowners will be in the same boat!!! Too much housing isn't a good thing either. So sick of this county!

Harry Wiggins

This is another bait and switch by a developer. The original proposal was 3 15 story towers that were CONDOS, through spreading around cash incentives to the BOCS in the way of "campaign" contributions, wink wink, the BOCS allowed the towers to be converted to 3 story walk up apartments that will add to the glut of apartments built or planned for in Woodbridge. The schools in the east end of the county are already bursting at the seams, two members of the school board begged the BOCS not to approve this horrible development, and guess what users of Rt 1, 3500 additional cars on Rt 1 each day. The surprise for me was Candland who apparently been shown the light by Stewart in terms of how to extract campaign dollars from developers by voting for this bad, bad deal for PWC.

Jim Riley

I agree, Harry. The 15-story high-end condo towers would have been a great way to anchor the corridor. I used to live in a condo at IDI's Watergate at Landmark in Alexandria and the original plan for Rivergate sounded very similar to it. Allowing the developer to convert this project into low-rise apartments instead will only add more tax-negative housing to the county while being able to count it as "commercial" instead of residential.

John Sebastian

Those who have been paying attention aren't too surprised with Candland. Just a few short months ago he jumped at the opportunity to support the monstrosity Haven at Haymarket Crossing, bringing over 300 apartments to Haymarket based on ludicrous claims by the developer. He gave no consideration whatsoever to local residents' concerns, especially when they pointed out that the developer doesn't have the best reputation.

This now makes over 1000 new apartments rubber-stamped by Candland in the past three months. What made matters worse was his apparent desire to lecture Principi on just how good these apartments will be for Rt. 1, despite being in the exact opposite end of the county.

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