(NOTE: from the November, 2003 Prince William Community Report)
The Saratoga Hunt development project surrounds Bel Air Plantation, likely the oldest home in Prince William. Located near the intersection of Spriggs and Silverdale, Saratoga Hunt lies at the headwaters of Neabsco Creek. At the time of the rezoning, the hardwood forest, erodible soils and steeply sloped landscape conditions at this site highlighted local deficits in government support for historical and natural resource preservation opportunities. Additionally, road capacity on Minnieville was graded F+ by government, and area residents fed up with traffic congestion protested loudly.
Nonetheless the Board of Supervisors approved the Saratoga Hunt high-density development proposal. Citizen involvement caused the developer to increase proffers (legally binding commitments) to protect both natural and historic resources.
After the proffers were accepted and the area rezoned, the Saratoga Hunt project entered the site plan stage and submitted specific development plans. Site plans are required to honor commitments included in the approved proffer text, approved as part of the rezoning. No one spotted the conflicts and Prince William Planning approved a site plan that did not agree with the proffered commitments for Saratoga Hunt.
The development area surrounds a historic home. Because inadequate information was available at the time of the rezoning, the developer promised to have an archeologist on site during land clearing activities. The time for this has come and gone, with no evidence of any archeological assessment. Proffers to protect wetlands, forests and other sensitive features were not honored. Truckloads of fill and leveling activities have radically altered the landscape, which was steeply sloped. Land-shaping activities in the area above the stormwater pond have intruded into the creek. As the creek nears the stormwater pond, a segment of the stream channel was completely filled in and relocated.
Another promise not kept was the developer's commitment to share site plan information and provide a walk-through for area problems in the plan and acted to prevent the damage from happening.
As things stand now, it will be difficult and expensive to restore this radically altered landscape to original conditions. Should the builder be required to restore the land to originally proffered conditions or fund mitigation projects within watershed to try to balance damages?
These decisions also set visible precedents for other builders. Government actions that fail to achieve full compliance with rezoning criteria send a message that proffered commitments are merely negotiating points in Prince William.
What's fair for Saratoga Hunt is fair for other Prince William developers. It's easier and cheaper to catch the problems early on. Citizens have a critical role to play. Although we can't expect government to be everywhere, we should be able to count on strong support when problems are identified. Prince William needs many eyes and good follow through to make sure that promises made are promises kept.
The Prince William Conservation Alliance website has information to help citizens understand how to get involved in local efforts. We also invite all citizens to attend our monthly member meetings, which include a program on current issues and the opportunity for citizens to share information. Hope to see you there!