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GMU Presents Plan to the Board

The Housing Advisory Board presents ideas for creating more affordable housing in the county.

Thomas Hennessey, chief of staff at George Mason University, told the Board of Supervisors the college would be coming to Loudoun regardless of what happened with the Upper Broad Run/Upper Foley Subareas Comprehensive Plan amendment that is before them.

The statement came during a presentation Hennessey made before the board Monday, Oct. 30, about GMU's plans for a Loudoun campus. Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) asked Hennessey whether the university would move forward if the proposed amendment was not approved.

George Mason currently has preliminary approval of the plan from the State Council for Higher Education, which it received in January. The preliminary approval lasts for one year, in which time GMU must submit the final plan for the Loudoun campus. Final approval for its application would have to come from both Governor Tim Kaine (D) and the General Assembly.

The Supervisors are holding work sessions on the Transition Policy Area amendment, which would allow for increased residential and retail development in the area surrounding the university site.

THIS SUMMER, the Planning Commission recommended increasing the residential density throughout the transition area to four dwelling units per acre, with the denser development being toward the east and feathering out toward the west.

The Planning Commission also recommended a large buffer at one unit per acre along the western side of the transition area up to the Rural Policy Area. Under the commission proposal, there would be a buffer south of the area to the Prince William County border, with a 500-foot natural buffer and 1,300 feet of the one-unit-per-acre density. The recommendation would have allowed for the development of up to 34,000 homes in the area.

At the board's Oct. 3 business meeting, Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) proposed excluding any development south of Braddock Road from the proposal, which the board supported. At the meeting Tulloch said there appeared to be little support on the board of development in that area. If the area south of Braddock Road is excluded, the projected build-out would decrease to less than 27,000 homes.

WHILE GEORGE MASON does not own the land on which it hope to build the campus, it is planning on taking control of it soon. Greenvest LLC announced last fall they would donate 123 acres to the university. The gifted acreage is located within a Greenvest development proposal north of the intersection of Route 50 and Route 659.

"Once we finalize the contract to receive the gift we will be able to take possession of the property," Hennessey said.

Chairman Scott K. York (I-At large) asked Greenvest to send the board a letter stating they would gift the land even if the Comprehensive Plan amendment was not approved.

Even though GMU plans to move forward, Hennessey said the university would need approved residential development surrounding it is because the university can not fund the construction of accessory buildings.

"The commonwealth only provides construction for academic buildings," he said.

George Mason must find alternative funding to build residential halls, dining halls, student activity buildings and performance centers, Hennessey said.

"Simply put, you can't put this type of campus in the middle of nowhere," he said. "You've got to have a vibrant community around it."

HENNESSEY CITED GMU's Prince William County campus as an example of the county working with the university to provide the auxiliary buildings a campus needs.

"Prince William recognizes it also needs 40 acres right next to campus for town center with high-density retail, high-density residential," Hennessey said. He added that the county had already approved the town center.

A town center, Hennessey said, would be able to provide services not only for the campus and students, but also for surrounding residents.

"Why not build a library with the county that could be the best library we could ever have," he said, "one that could serve the citizens as well as the students? Extend that possibility to a number of possibilities: a fitness and aquatic center, performing arts center. Things that can be put anywhere."

Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) asked Hennessey to find out the exact number of residential units Prince William County approved in its town center application, an indication some members of the board might be willing to provide GMU with something similar.

While some Supervisors only asked questions about the university's plans for the campus, others indicated they would be willing to support the college's needs.

"I have yet to find any community that hasn't done well, extremely well, when a university is involved," Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) said.

SUPERVISORS ALSO heard a presentation from members of Housing Advisory Board about how to address the county's unmet housing needs. In July the Housing Advisory Board adopted a resolution urging the board to consider a mix of housing units when considering approval of Upper Broad Run and Upper Foley amendment.

"We went to a lot of work to quantify how far we are behind," Kim Hart, an at-large member of the advisory board, said. "It's bad. We also make a point of saying, if you continue to encourage large amounts of market-rate housing without addressing workforce housing the bad situation that is already predicted is going to get worse."

The county defines unmet housing needs as the lack of housing options for families that are unable to rent or purchase due to insufficient incomes to meet market prices.

TAMAR DATAN, education and workforce chair, said the solution is not as simple as building more units. The groups that cannot afford housing, she said, are those that are needed by additional development, such as teachers, construction workers and retail workers.

"We are bringing forward to you the concept that there are 50 2 percent solutions instead of two 50 percent solutions," she said. "We think we can make a dent in it and we would like to be given the opportunity to try."

The advisory board's suggested policies for the Transition Policy Are, which totaled 32, included strengthening the affordable dwelling units program and considering incentives for developers.

Some Supervisors said they were not comfortable with the idea of incentives because they did not believe they worked.

"I don't see where they've worked here [in the county,]" Burton said.

Waters said that while she supports the creation of affordable housing, often at higher densities, she does not want to see single-family homes completely eradicated from the plan.

"I think single-family-detached units have to remain on the table," she said. "If we want Loudoun to be family friendly that means detached homes."

The board will meet Monday, Nov. 6, at 6:30 p.m., in the County Government Center for its next work session. To avoid recertification issues the board must take action on the Transition Policy Area Comprehensive Plan amendment by Nov. 26.