For months, opponents of Stone Haven have complained about the additional traffic and school overcrowding they’re convinced will occur if Prince William County officials approve another 1,650 new homes in Brentsville.
But the recent resignation of former Supervisor Wally Covington offered another reason to object Tuesday when the project was up for a final review before the county Board of Supervisors.
The Brentsville supervisor’s seat on the dais is currently empty, meaning the vote was poised to occur without formal representation of those who live closest to the proposed development.
During a two-hour public hearing on the matter that included more than 60 speakers, Patty McKay, president of the Nokesville Civic Association, was among many who declared the situation unacceptable to Brentsville residents.
“I believe it’s unprecedented that such an important vote take place when we have no representative for our citizens,” McKay said. “Whether that’s legal or not, it is right that this vote be deferred until we have a representative.”
That sentiment – as well as some confusion about whether Stone Haven would relieve or exacerbate high-school overcrowding – prompted Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart to call for the vote to be deferred until Jan. 20, about a month after a Dec. 23 special election to fill the Brentsville seat.
The motion, approved unanimously, came after Stewart called on school staff to explain student projections for west-end county high schools, which are already overcapacity by hundreds of students.
The issue is particularly important to Stone Haven because the project’s major selling point is the donation of an 85-acre site for the county’s 13th high school, which landowner E.V. Hunter Trust is offering in lieu of cash proffers for schools.
In total, E.V. Hunter Trust is offering more than $91.2 million in land donations for schools, parks and playing fields as well as three miles of road improvements that would extend University Boulevard and Rollins Ford Road though the proposed subdivision, which would be located just south of Jiffy Lube Live near the intersections of Linton Hall, Wellington and Devlin Roads.
The project’s many perks – as well as the landowner’s efforts over the past two years to consult area residents in a series of community meetings – won praise from about half of those who spoke during the meeting Tuesday.
Brentsville resident Bob Talbert said he liked the idea of having another well-planned neighborhood on the now vacant land instead of an industrial complex, shopping mall or office building, which is what county zoning rules would currently allow.
“This piece of land is the last piece of the puzzle and you have an opportunity to get it just right,” Talbert said. “And I think this site plan does that.”
Although some supervisors agreed that Stone Haven’s plan for a mix of homes, townhomes, parks and commercial space looked appealing, their questions about the project focused on school overcrowding and whether the development would improve or worsen conditions for county high school students.
Early in the meeting, School Board Chairman Milt Johns gave a lengthy statement in which he told supervisors the school division does not have another site under consideration for the 13th high school and is counting on the land donation to open the new school as scheduled in the fall of 2019.
When supervisors asked Johns if the school division needs the site with or without Stone Haven, Johns’ response was emphatic.
“Yes, we need it yesterday,” he said. “I’m trying to be flip, but Patriot is full. Battlefield is filling up again… all of the schools on the west end are full.”
After the public hearing, Stewart, R-At Large, and Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, pressed school planning supervisor Dave Beavers about whether Stone Haven’s new residents would result in the new high school being immediately overcrowded.
Beavers said the school division expects existing west-end high schools to be at least 1,600 students overcapacity by the 2018-19 school year even without the addition of new residents. Add Stone Haven into the mix, and that number would likely rise to 1,800, Beavers said.
“So, effectively, on day one of the 13th high school, we will be at or over capacity?’ Principi asked.
“That would be a reasonable statement,” Beavers answered.
Stewart said the board would have to have “some better numbers” from the school division before its final vote.
“Because one way or another, the Board of Supervisors can’t just look at the school system and say, [school overcrowding is] your problem,’” Stewart added. “Ultimately, it’s all our problem.”
Both Jeanine Lawson and Scott Jacobs, the only two candidates vying to fill Covington’s seat in the Dec. 23 election, attended the meeting. But only Lawson spoke from the podium to urge a delay in the vote.
In an interview after the meeting, Lawson said she remains undecided about the project and needs more information about whether the school division is prepared to purchase a school site if Stone Haven is not approved.
“It sounds like [school officials] need to come back with more answers,” Lawson added. “Clearly a lot of people in the Brentsville District are tired of having their kids in trailers and oversized classrooms.”