Two bills that would have had a devastating effect on how Loudoun County collects proffers got declawed in a Senate subcommittee Monday.
HB 2456, sponsored by Virginia Beach’s Del. Terrie Suit (R-81), and HB 2888, sponsored by Prince William County’s Del. Scott Lingamfelter (R-31) were paired for discussion in a tailor-made new subcommittee chaired by Sen. William Mims (R-32). The bills had few fans in Northern Virginia: the Loudoun County and Fairfax County boards of supervisors opposed them and the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association opposed the Suit bill as well.
"They were a very bad idea to begin with," said Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge). "It took quite a while before the sponsors were willing to see they were going to cause a problem for a lot of jurisdictions."
The Suit bill, as originally worded, would have prevented the county from collecting proffers before issuing a building permit — essentially threatening the entire platform that many of the first-term Loudoun supervisors ran on. Gathering proffers up-front has been a critical element of rezonings applications from developers in the last year. They help pay for the county's many service and transportation needs in light of its exploding population.
"The Suit bill would not have allowed the county to work with the developers, [or] be able to negotiate with proffers up-front," said Chairman Scott York (I-At Large). "We would have had to work on the back end to collect proffers. It was just a horrible bill."
According to Jim Williams, executive vice president of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association, Loudoun County is the most forthright among local counties when it comes to collecting proffers up-front. Adjusting the wording of the Suit bill made it possible for Loudoun to continue operating this way.
"If a guy wants to go ahead and pay his proffers up-front like they do in Loudoun County, they can do it," Williams said.
While in the Mims committee, the Suit bill was rephrased to say that the developer may "voluntarily agree" to pay proffers in advance of receiving a building permit. Since all proffers are technically "voluntary," the bill, in its current incarnation, will have little effect on how the county operates business.
THE LINGAMFELTER bill, meanwhile, would have required counties to turn over unused proffers to the Virginia Department of Transportation if they went unused for five years.
The NVBIA supported the bill.
"What we're trying to say is, guys, use it or lose it," said Williams. "Proffers are meant to mitigate impact, not sit in a bank gathering dust."
To Loudoun County officials, however, the Suit and Lingamfelter bills were a toxic combination. If the Suit bill didn't allow the county to gather proffers until after building permit issuance, and the Lingamfelter put a limit on how long the county could keep proffers in its coffers, that could dramatically limit the time period Loudoun had to work with the proffer.
"Say you had a school proffer that didn't get built in five years," said Loudoun County lobbyist Memory Porter. "We'd have to give that money to VDOT." She pointed out that with planning and construction, schools often take more than five years to build.
While in the Mims committee, the Lingamfelter bill was reworded to change the time limit from five years to seven years. The clock also won't start ticking until full payment of all proffers is made. For a large development along the lines of Ashburn Village or Brambleton, it can take years for all proffers to be collected.
The Lingamfelter bill does have one positive effect: language injected by Del. Joe T. May (R-33) will allow counties to have a public process to change the destination of cash proffers if the original need is no longer there.
The Senate was expected to vote on the final drafts of both the Suit and Lingamfelter bills this week. For voting results, visit http://legis.state.va.us.