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Prince William Conservation Alliance Comments

PWCA Comments on the Board of Supervisors Denial of the Greater South Market Comprehensive Plan Amendment:

The 2002 Prince William County Citizen Satisfaction survey showed where citizens are not satisfied:

Citizens know that there are rules to the development game. Unfortunately, the rules are not clear, and the umpires are not trusted to interpret the rules fairly. Decisions seem to be based on piecemeal criteria.

The South Market proposal has followed this pattern. Zoning for the 160 acres planned as a transition between the 418 acres protected as Rural Crescent and Environmental Resource, and the 118 acres planned for office uses, was identified as an anomaly through the County's comprehensive stale zoning analysis. The County failed to move forward with actions to remedy this inconsistency, so the zoning would be consistent with the planning.

Instead, the Board recommended replanning of these parcels through a sector plan process or by including them in the Comprehensive Plan Update.

This would have been consistent with the Board direction to ensure a comprehensive review of comparable requests from the mid-county area, filed at the same time as South Market, by including these mid-county proposals in the McCoart Sector Plan process.

Instead, South Market was treated as a piecemeal proposition. It was excluded from the Gainesville Sector Plan. It was excluded from the Comprehensive Plan Update, which contained a thorough review of anomalies and the specific guidance that boundary changes to the defined Rural Crescent were not acceptable.

Approval processes have not reflected high quality review standards. Compliance with proffer standards and environmental regulations are not negotiating points. They are minimum requirements. This application now includes increased proffered commitments. We thank KSI and the citizens whose efforts made this possible. This has not, however, increased citizen confidence in the county's planning and land use process.

South Market's 660-acres have large amounts of forests and large amounts of wetlands. The developer's mapped ground-truthing information shows significant and valuable wetland systems - these are shown on the map as the green and yellow areas connected by unprotected waterways mapped as pink lines. According to the rules, all Prince William County lands are designated Resource Management Areas (RMAs) as part of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement. Safeguarding these natural functions, provided by nature free of charge, through the conservation of environmentally sensitive features is consistent with the goals of the Comprehensive Plan and would also save future costs to mitigate wetland impacts, construct stormwater systems, replant clearcuts and prevent negative impacts to Prince William's public drinking water supply.

Unfortunately, the only portion of this site unequivocally protected under the regulations is the Resource Protection Area along North Fork, shown on the map as the area north of the dark blue line.

Only in the latest revision of the proposal were commitments made for low impact development. To protect a resource, you need to know where it is otherwise, you might plan to put houses and parking lots in a wetland. If you wait until the last stage of a development proposal to identify and consider natural resource areas, after the developer has planned the locations of the facilities it's too late, and too expensive to make a change.

What have we learned from this proposal? One concern is that the neighboring property owners have learned that standards are flexible. Already an application for the nearby University of Virginia parcel has entered the rezoning process with a request for increased densities based on the premise that what is fair for South Market is fair for the University of Virginia.

The Prince William Conservation Alliance believes the proposed South Market site offers extraordinary opportunities to develop and implement a model for sustainable development in the headwaters of the Occoquan Basin. We believe that inconsistently applied processes, regulations and standards are barriers and cause Prince William County to miss the window of opportunity for sustainable developments that contribute to increased quality of life for residents. From the Potomac to the Piedmont, Prince William County's valuable natural resources are unique within the Northern Virginia region. If the County is not willing to set priorities and make investments to protect these values, we can hardly expect commitments from others.

We thank you for the opportunity to share our ideas and continue to look forward to the day when productive partnerships and realistic development proposals that are both profitable and sustainable begin to set a higher standard for Prince William County.

PWCA Comments on the Board of Supervisors Denial of the Greater South Market Comprehensive Plan Amendment

On 1 July 2003 the Prince William Board held a public hearing to consider the South Market development proposal. Many citizens shared their commitment to maintaining the integrity of the Comprehensive Plan and Rural Crescent boundaries, and expressed their concerns that the proposal would add unacceptable pressure to quality of life conditions.

We thank you for your support for long-range planning goals and understanding that, of all the stakeholders in Prince William County, none are so heavily invested as citizens the people who live, work, volunteer and raise their children here.

We all recognize that PW communities face serious quality of life challenges traffic congestion, crowded schools, too few ball fields, inadequate open space and rising taxes are day-to-day realities. We understand that all stakeholders citizens, government, businesses and developers benefit from straightforward and inclusive processes.

We know that preventing problems works better and costs less than mitigation after the damage is done. Prevention requires up front investments stakeholders must be willing to commit resources to solutions before the problem exists and sometimes with few guarantees. This is true for taxpayers. Consider Lake Ridge Park, a tiny lone spot of open space nestled amid a heavily surburbanized area that is now bombarded with competing resident needs golf vs. crew vs. hiking vs. playgrounds because the upfront investment for additional public green open space along the Reservoir was never made.

This is true for developers. From South Market, we can learn that including participation from all stakeholders helps to protect developers' upfront investments. If you wait until the last stages of the proposal process to include community input, it's too late and too expensive to make a change.

Upfront commitments to environmental sustainability must include all components. Consider low impact development, a stormwater management system based on conserving and integrating valuable natural resources into the development plan. The first thing you need to know is where these resources are otherwise, you might plan to build houses on them. If you wait until the last stage of a development proposal to identify and consider natural resource areas, it's too late and too expensive to make a change.

When all is said and done at South Market, it is likely we will find no clear winners or losers. When some stakeholders are excluded from the early stages of the process, the result is often outcomes where both developers and citizens feel blindsided. We have all the puzzle pieces, but getting the job done remains a balancing act of competing special interests. As PW continues its 50-year-long pattern of rapid growth, there's never been a better time than right now to begin assembling these pieces into mutually supportive partnerships. We will likely make mistakes but can choose to move forward with the understanding that we share a common goal: a better Prince William County where people are proud to live, work and play.

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