Why Do We Have a Rural Crescent?
by Charlie Grymes
In 1998, Supervisors revised the 1990 Comprehensive Plan to encourage high-density development on major chunks of land along Linton Hall and Route 15. More than 60% of the private land in the county was designated as the Development Area. In the last 15 years, Braemar, Kingsbrooke, Dominion Valley, Heritage Hunt, and other subdivisions have been completed in this expanded Development Area.
Expansion of the Development Area was intended to stimulate development of high-value “executive” homes. Tax revenues from low-cost townhomes, the dominant way population growth was accommodated in the 1980’s-1990’s, were too low. New residents had moved into those townhomes, crowding schools, congesting roads, and overwhelming the capability of first responders to provide basic public safety services.
By 1998, local elected officials were tired of increasing taxes to fund expansion of public services in Prince William. Voting for an increase in the property tax does not increase the popularity or re-election potential of county supervisors.
The 1998 Comprehensive Plan laid the foundation for minimizing property tax increases in the future. To establish a long-term strategy to minimize the cost of building new public infrastructure such as schools, roads, police/fire stations, ballfields, parks, and libraries, the county committed to concentrating new development in the Development Area.
Under the 1998 Comprehensive Plan, new services would be built where the vast majority of the population lived. From a political perspective, that was smart. From a fiscal perspective, the new Comprehensive Plan was also smart, because it is more cost-effective to build new public facilities in a few places vs. scattering development randomly across the county.
At the same time, a portion of the Development Area was defined for large-lot houses, to be zoned as Semi-Residential Low (SRR) and Semi-Residential Rural (SRR). That ensured there would be a complete choice of housing types for commuters going into Fairfax/Arlington/DC.
A crescent of land on the perimeter of the county, approximately 80,000 acres, was designated as a Rural Area in the 1998 Comprehensive Plan. The minimum lot size for building a new house in the Rural Area was purposely set at 10 acres.
By focusing development in the Development Area and limiting the extension of public services in the Rural Area, supervisors could minimize the need to increase property taxes to support the county’s increasing population.