Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Leave Site Undeveloped

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Leave Site Undeveloped

A proposed amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan would allow the construction of 43 “higher-end” townhouses on eight acres of waste land next to Dogue Creek. This proposal is deeply flawed and should be rejected. It would violate long-standing state regulations and county policies, it would make flooding worse instead of better along Dogue Creek, and it would set a disastrous precedent for development elsewhere in the Route 1 corridor.

Despite these flaws, the authors of the proposed amendment insist that the site isn’t in the 100-year floodplain and doesn’t deserve the protections of a Resource Protection Area (RPA) or Environmental Quality Corridor (EQC). In their view, this isn’t a development proposal, it’s actually a remediation proposal, because they plan to clean the site up ... before they pave it over.

Our District Supervisor, Dan Stork, referred the proposed amendment to the Planning Commission, asking that they let their staff evaluate it. The staff report left little doubt that that they didn’t like the proposal. Staff particularly noted the adverse precedent for creating residential lots in the floodplain, as well as the failure to address the stability of Dogue Creek and the potential for the release of accumulated sediment. Staff also concluded that the proposed amendment did not demonstrate any potential for the required “net environmental benefit” from disturbing the EQC. It would be highly unusual for the commission to go against such a strong report from its staff.

The county’s Stormwater Planning Division was also consulted, and they were even more direct in rejecting the proposed amendment:

  • Building this project in the RPA, without the required 100-foot buffer, would “exacerbate downstream [flooding and erosion].”

  • “The … application is counter to the intent and spirit of [EQCs],” since it proposes additional landfill that would further degrade the site’s floodplain function and other ecological services. “The property at 8800 Richmond Highway is exactly the appropriate situation in which preserving or restoring [EQCs] should occur.”

  • “Allowing an exception here sets a very bad precedent [emphasis theirs] for this area and for the county as a whole, and will weaken County Environmental rules and protections in the future.”

  • “The perception that town homes will improve the overall environmental condition is false, as improved aesthetics does not mean improved environmental quality. Town houses will contribute [trash, pollution and stormwater runoff] that may exceed the pollutant loads from the current occupant.”

Perhaps a better solution would be to convert the roadside portion of this property to private open space, which is precisely what’s called for in the current Comprehensive Plan. The owners already converted the back portion of the property to private open space in 1966, greatly reducing their tax burden for the past 50 years. The Planning Commission should refuse this amendment in the strongest possible language and hope that the example will prevent other developers from proposing similar projects in the future.

Paul B. Phelps