In the final weeks of his campaign to become the next Occoquan District Supervisor, Kenny Boddye addressed the governing board on which he would soon be elected.
“Every dollar we spend on the rural crescent, to develop it and put houses out there, is a dollar that we can’t put toward schools in the eastern end [of Prince William County] where we have some of the oldest schools in the region,” Boddye said on October 15, 2019.
Three weeks later, Boddye, a Democrat, unseated Ruth Anderson, a Republican, by a razor-thin margin of fewer than two points. He rode in on a blue wave that saw Democrats not only take control of county government for the first time but also grabbed power in the General Assembly in Richmond.
His comments in support of maintaining the county’s rural crescent — land stretching from Quantico Marine Corps Base to Manassas National Battlefield, preserved in 1998 to curb the massive suburban sprawl the county had been experiencing — were an indication he would also be an advocate for the land.
On Wednesday, January 20, Boddye changed his mind. He and four other Democrats took a party-line vote to amend the county’s comprehensive land-use plan and rezone 340 acres of the rural area. The move clears the way to construct 99 new homes on the Occoquan River for a new development called The Preserve at Long Branch (formerly Mid-County Park and Estate Homes).
He was one of the five to approve the rezoning — all Democrats — a political party that has traditionally opted to preserve land.
Regardless of what was done 20 years ago, [the county’s population] has grown by hundreds of thousands of people,” Boddye said. We don’t have one silver bullet to solve this issue, and we can’t rely on 10 acre lots to manage open space and slow development.”
Zoning rules for the rural crescent enacted in 1998 limit new-home construction to one per every 10 acres.
The three Republicans on the board, as they have with land-use cases over the past year, tried to thwart the rezoning attempt. They lost, and now, they’re calling out Boddye for his about-face for his position on preserving some of the last remaining open space in Northern Virginia.
“I stand by my word, my promises, and my pledges to my community, and I’m going to do that with my vote tonight, and I’m going to remind you that you made the same commitment to the rural crescent when you were candidate,” Brentsville District Supervisor Jeanine Lawson told Boddye.
Lawson represents a large swath of the rural area. “Now you’re a county supervisor, and you’re feeling the heat from your Democrat colleagues, and I would recommend that you stand alone and defend the rural area like you have committed to do verbally multiple times…,” added Lawson.
The new neighborhood will be built off Bristow Road and will have three times as many homes will be built on the land than what had been allowed by the comprehensive plan.
The proposed development has been on the books for the past 10 years and has been amended multiple times. Initially, the property owner, housing developer Mark Granville Smith, of Classic Concept Builders, wanted to build 118 homes on the lot. Eventually, he reduced the number to 99 and now promises to preserve 146-acres of land for use as a public park and boating access to the Occoquan River.
While some spoke in favor of the development, the majority of residents joined the county’s school division and Planning Commission, both of which give the development a thumbs down due to the effects will have on both increased traffic to the area, as well as adding more children to the county’s already overcrowded school system.
Yesli Vega, who represents the Coles District on the Board of County Supervisors, the district where the new neighborhood will be built, opposed the project. After touring the property, she characterized the plot on which the park will sit as unbuildable land, on uneasy terrain, with steep slopes.
“How does the request for this park in this new…neighborhood compare to the number of residents who oppose this development?” asked Vega.
She stacked a pile of more than 600 copies of printed emails on a desk in front of her to illustrate the amount of correspondence sent to elected leaders in response to the project.
Board of Supervisors Chair At-large Ann Wheeler called many of those emails, sent by county residents who opposed the project, a response to “manufactured outrage” spurred by environmental groups who urged residents to contact their representatives.
“I have disdain for people who manufacture false information. If you go to sections of the county, some poeple don’t even know what the rural area is,” said Wheeler.
For too long, she argued that county leaders have wanted to force all new development into the county’s heavily-populated eastern section, to places like Dale City and Woodbridge. All of this has happened as public schools in the east became overcrowded and land in the west was preserved only for a privileged few landowners, she said.
“The decisions made 20 years ago to put development in a once certain area is harmful,” said Wheeler. “The land in the west is not accessible to the public.”
Supervisors in the minority pushed back and reminded Wheeler of the explosion of growth in the county’s western area, including thousands of homes that now dot the hillsides of Bristow and the expansive commercial shopping centers that line the streets in Gainesville.
“To give the impression that people in the west are dumping all of the development in the east end, that’s just not true,” said Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland, in reply to Wheeler. “It’s either a lie or ignorance.”
The move is the lastest from a governing body that is signaling a departure from the past. Last year, it approved a rezoning in the Brentsville District for 500 new homes. A new asphalt plant was nearly approved outside Manassas on a party-line vote until Woodbridge District Supervisor Margaret Franklin broke with her ranks and sided with Republicans.
“We need more industrial land,” said Wheeler. “We’re going to make [more] changes to the comprehensive plan.”
Potomac District Supervisor Andrea Bailey said the county is entering a new era of development. “We have to look at equity when we talk about building infrastructure,” said Bailey. “Equity is not preserving a spot and then placing the commercial development on one side of the county. We need to find a balance.”
In an attempt to find common ground with supporters of preserving the rural crescent, Bailey said her home in the Brittany subdivision outside of Dumfries is located inside the rural crescent, when, in fact, it is not.
Elected leaders say the decision to approve the new development now opens the doors for other property owners in the rural crescent to also apply for comprehensive plan amendments, hoping they, too, will be able to build large numbers of homes on their properties.
“This will set a precedent to allow for a bunch of other projects to come in, and I don’t blame the landowners who want to come in and get theirs,’ said Candland.