Commission Begins Making Decisions

Commission Begins Making Decisions

Housing and land use topped the issues discussed as the Planning Commission met as a whole for the first time to work on Comprehensive Plan amendment (CPAM) for the Transition Policy Area.

After three weeks of subcommittee meetings commissioners came together to begin making definite changes to the policy language of the Upper Broad Run and Upper Foley CPAMs. The three subcommittees, made up of three commissioners each, met to discuss issues such as transportation, housing, densities, fiscal impact and environmental impact.

If approved, the CPAMs would allow greater residential density and business development in the area between the Suburban Policy Area and the Rural Policy Area. The areas in question are southwest of Route 621 and cover the north side of Route 50 to Route 621 and south of Route 50 to the Prince William County border. The current CPAMs were created following the submission of CPAMs for the area by Greenvest LLC and other development companies. The county decided to bring the proposed CPAMs under one document for further study.

The proposed amendment would bring residential development to the area through mixed-use communities allowing densities up to four units per acre in the Upper Broad Run subarea and three units per acre in the Upper Foley subarea.

AT THE THURSDAY, June 26 meeting, commissioners proposed changing the residential densities of the area, allowing four units per acre throughout the Upper Broad Run and Upper Foley subareas, with a large buffer that allows a density of one unit per acre. The proposed buffer would run along the western side of the subareas to the border of the Rural Policy Area. There would also be a buffer south of the subareas to the Prince William County border, with a 500-foot natural buffer and 1,300 feet of the one-unit-per-acre density.

"The ultimate design yield would be a thinning out as you move towards the Rural Policy Area," Commissioner Robert Klancher (Broad Run) said.

Originally, the subcommittee led by Klancher proposed keeping the proposed four-units-per-acre density in the Upper Broad Run subarea. The subcommittee recommended splitting the Upper Foley subarea, allowing three units per acre in the northern section and two units per acre towards the county border, and keeping the large one-unit-per-acre buffer along the western edge.

The decision to change the densities came after it was realized that the original proposal would cause problems and major changes for the proposed developments already submitted to the county.

Some commissioners, however, felt the densities should be looked at without focusing solely on the current development applications.

"Since this is a CPAM I don't think we should be looking at this by potential developments," Commissioner Nancy Hsu (Blue Ridge) said. "I think we should be deciding this based on what we want to see here. If the intent is to keep four units per acre but incorporate a green belt, then I would show a green belt [on the density map]."

Commissioners also accepted the subcommittee's proposal of designating 1,300 feet along relocated Route 659 for higher densities.

"We saw this developing as a higher-density area and becoming a major north-south area, so you would have the opportunity for the Mason campus as well as the development of dorms and such like that," Klancher said. "If someone wants to put up apartments, we don't want them put out [towards the west]."

IN ADDITION TO proposed densities, the commission debated land-use requirements for new developments. The proposed policies would allow for a minimum of 30 percent residential with a cap set at 60 percent. Developments would be required to have a minimum of 10 percent of their proposal designated for public and civic uses, such as churches, and 30 percent for public parks and open spaces.

The main debate came over the issue of office and industrial development and whether some part of each proposal should be designated for employment uses.

Project manager Cindy Keegan told commissioners that staff members felt it was important to require some sort of minimum for office use.

"In residential communities there is no minimum for employment or light industrial, but that is because there are already areas designated for employment," she said.

Some commissioners were concerned about setting a requirement, stating that would give a solid number for developers to work around.

"If you say it is going to be 1,200 acres or 1,200 units before you have to have offices, then someone who is going to want to play the system is only going to have 1,000 and then you end up with no offices anywhere," Commissioner J. Kevin Ruedisueli (At-large) said.

Developers with proposals in the area suggested the commission set no minimum for office space because it might not be appropriate in all cases, dependent on size, location and environmental impact.

In the end, commissioners decided to require a 5 percent minimum and no maximum for office and industrial development, with the opportunity to make exceptions on a case-by-case basis, leaving the county with the option of deciding the merits of each application.

"It gives that qualitative description rather than focusing on the quantitative," Hsu said.

A REPRESENTATIVE FROM the Housing Advisory Board, John Stevens, made a presentation to the Planning Commission at its Thursday meeting, asking that the commission remove the words work-force housing from the policy language and replace it with unmet housing needs.

"There are segments of the work-force market that are not served," Stevens said. "By adding extra definitions it segments the market and the use of some terminology might actually gain a negative connotation."

With the deletion of the definition of work-force housing from the policies' glossary, some commissioners were concerned that the term unmet housing needs would be open to too much interpretation by developers.

"My issue is a developer comes in and says I've got an unmet need, we don't have any housing at $5.5 million," commission chair Teresa White Whitmore (Potomac) said. "You are going to have to have some sort of criteria to decide those needs."

"You intend for unmet housing needs to be at the affordable level, but in fact there may be other ideas that people have of what is an unmet need," Hsu said. "If you take away the definition you are leaving it open."

Stevens told the commission that the criteria for unmet housing needs would be decided by the advisory board at a later date and its proposed language was only meant to be a place holder until such time.

"We are saying this should be done without labels and without a ceiling," he said. "Not all housing is going to be included in this because not all housing has unmet needs."

While the commission did not take a formal vote on a recommendation for the Board of Supervisors, there was very little debate between commissioners over individual issues, indicating the process for the Transition Policy Area might move more smoothly than the process for the Route 50/Arcola CPAM, which was reconsidered several times before the commission made a formal recommendation.

The Planning Commission will meet Thursday, July 6, to continue the discussion of the proposed policies.