Amazon’s decision to move to Crystal City changed the game. Google is significantly increasing its footprint in Northern Virginia. Apple had Northern Virginia on its “short list” for a new campus (although it chose Austin, Texas). Other major tech companies are noticing.
We can expect significant growth in both the major players and the many subcontractors, consultants and service providers who will follow them. They are all going to need a place to live.
I thought I’d chat about this with Scott Jacobs. Jacobs is a well-known local real estate agent who was born and raised in Brentsville. His two sons attend school there. Jacobs plans to retire here. Jacobs has been been pondering “what’s next” from a business and quality-of-life perspective for quite a while.
When I asked him what our future looked like and how our transition to a tech hub would affect Prince William County, Jacobs surprised me by declaring, “We are not ready.”
These newcomers will need homes. The question is, “Where will we build them?” Resolving the future of the Rural Crescent is an important part of this equation. Jacobs faults the Prince William Board of County Supervisors for inaction on policy regarding the Rural Crescent. A staff recommendation continues to drag on.
He observed that the board will change dramatically after November’s election, and faults the current board for not solving this issue. Years of experience with this issue will be lost if it isn’t resolved before the new board is seated in January.
Jacobs suggested I talk to the people who own most of the available land in the Rural Crescent: farmers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there were 304 farms totaling 22,874 acres in Prince William in 2017. I took him up on that suggestion and drove out to talk to Dale House, one of the largest production farmers in Prince William, his brother, Harold House, and cousins Tom and Robert House. This is a typical family operation.
As we overlooked the cornfields, Dale House lamented that the decision about the future of the Rural Crescent has dragged on for too long. It doesn’t really affect the people living on 10-acre lots who arrived here within the past 10 or 20 years. It affects farmland that has been, in the Houses’ case, in their family since 1889. House shared that 30 years ago, farmers would simply convert some of their land to housing to raise capital. Now they must wait for the county board to decide what they can do with their land.
Dale House shared his position on the Rural Crescent: “I would like the board to give us some tools instead of selling our farms in 10-acre lots.…We need options.”
The farm’s cornfields border Vint Hill Road. Dense rooftops of new homes could be seen across that road. The irony of those double yellow lines in the middle of Vint Hill Road defining the future of family farms such as the Houses’ was hard to miss.
During our conversation, Jacobs made an interesting observation. As the process of solving the Rural Crescent issue drags on, it is quietly being subdivided into 10-acre lots with no other viable option. If it drags on long enough, the issue may become moot because there is little left to talk about.
All farmers need are more viable options. They don’t really see any right now. Sooner would be better than later.
Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week. You can learn more about Al at www.alborn.net.