Changes to Prince William rural area to be considered Tuesday

The McCoart Building at the Prince William County Government Center in Woodbridge.

Prince William County leaders on Tuesday will be asked to make changes to the long-established Rural Crescent, a 117,000-acre tract of land consuming more than half of the county, where new development is limited to a minimum of 10-acre lots and water and sewer lines are banned.

County staff will recommend the Board of County Supervisors adopt a Rural Area Plan — an update to the county’s comprehensive plan from 2008 that would allow for new “rural character” areas, allowing for new cluster developments where new homes could be built on lots as small three acres.

If approved, the Board of County Supervisors would need to rezone a property before new homes are built. Two new zoning districts would be established: RC-3 and RC-5, where homes would be built on three and five-acre lots, respectively.

Proponents of the plan say this type of development is a model for conservation. Under the requirement, 60% of the land in a new housing project would have to remain untouched. While new sewer lines — which have been the catalyst to develop rural lands — could be added, they wouldn’t be required.

Opponents of the plan maintain developing the rural area — some of the last rustic space in Northern Virginia — is no way to preserve it.

A second component of the county’s recommendation would allow landowners in the Rural Crescent to transfer their development rights to home and commercial builders. Called TDR, landowners who transfer their development rights would be able to cash in on the value of their property, keep their property for agricultural uses but could never develop it.

In exchange, developers would be getting extra density, giving them the ability to build taller or build more units than they otherwise could have without the TDR.

County staff identified multiple potential development areas where development rights would be used, called receiving areas. The areas marked for high-density development include:

  • Gateway Promenade (Cabela’s store in Gainesville)
  • Land east of Prince William Parkway at Wellington Road near Manassas
  • Potomac Mills mall and surrounding area
  • Potomac Shores near Dumfries

The areas for low-density development:

  • A farm nestled between Route 28 and Aden Road in Nokesville
  • Multiple parcels east of Route 234 near Manassas, between Bristow and Cloverhill roads

The final element of the recommendation is the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR). Under this scenario, government money would be used to purchase development rights from landowners in the Rural Crescent. Same as TDR, once the landowner sells their development rights, they can keep their land for farming but cannot develop the property.

County leaders began exploring how to best preserve the Rural Crescent in 2013, with the launch of its Rural Preservation Study. Completed in 2014, the study sat on a shelf collecting dust while the county’s population continued to grow. More of the rural area was being carved up for new homes to be built on 10-acre lots.

In 2016, the Board of County Supervisors asked staff to dust off the rural preservation study, examine it, and then recommend changes to the rural area based on the survey.

The following year, the Virginia General Assembly enacted sweeping changes to proffer laws that prevented the county from negotiating with developers for concessions for new development, including donated land for which the county could build new schools.

In 2019, the county held a series of public meetings and got feedback from residents on how to best preserve the land. According to county documents, the recommendations for the new RC-3, RC-5, TDR, and PDR programs all stem from both the rural study and the meetings held in 2019.

The Board of Supervisors will take up the matter at its 7:30 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, May 4, at the McCoart County Government Center, at 1 County Complex Court in Woodbridge.

Here’s the link to view the live meeting online.

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