Saturday, April 08, 2006

Opposition to Brentswood Development

At the April 1st Prince William Republican Convention, one resolution called on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors to reject the "Brentswood Community" project. The resolution passed easily.

A Washington Post article the next day, Millions for Roads Aside, Planners Oppose I-66 Project, by Nikita Stewart, details the reason for opposition to the project:

The project by Brookfield Homes would create five times the maximum number of houses intended for the area under the county's Comprehensive Plan -- the master plan that guides Prince William's zoning decisions on housing, schools, stores and office space, according to a staff report on the proposal.
Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville) questioned whether Brookfield Homes would be able to move any faster than VDOT or would follow through on its promises.
According to the staff report, the Federal Highway Administration would not be likely to approve the entrance to I-66 proposed by Brookfield Homes because it would be too close to another Gainesville interchange. The staff report said traffic analyses performed by Brookfield Homes are unreliable
The company [Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade and Douglas Inc. of Herndon] concluded that the county has an adequate supply of housing planned for 30 to 55 years and that Brookfield Homes would add too many houses, according to the staff report.
The consultant also found that Brookfield Homes wants to build 875,000 square feet of retail but that residents would need only 175,000 square feet to be served well. Also, the county's economic development plan calls for the addition of more high-tech office space and Brookfield Homes is not offering enough, according to the consultant.
The staff report, however, says that the 6,800 houses "could be easily sold" but questioned their overall impact on the county.
"Is this the right time to bring on a project of this magnitude with the gridlock in this area?" Stirrup asked.

The number one proponent of at least further study is Supervisor Wally Convington, who represents the Brentsville district where the project is located. Again from the article:

"The only reason we're looking at this proposal now is that it offered the transportation improvements," said Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville). "The argument is, 'Do you put your trust in VDOT?' "

It appears from the article that Covington may not trust VDOT or the county staff on this issue. He questions whether the staff report is reliable and wonders why a study was ordered without board approval. He thinks they were overreliant on the comprehensive plan, and is skeptical of the relationship between the staff and Parsons, asking "Did they manipulate the study?"

I can't speak to why Covington questions the staff work. But while I voted against the resolution at the PWC convention, having looked into the matter further I believe this development should be rejected, at least in its present form.

In fact, there appears to be a groundswell of oppposition. According to an April 4 article 6,800 homes 'next door?' by Tara Slate Donaldson, the more people learn about this project, the more they object. The biggest problem is that many supporters believe the developer offered to pay for road improvements, when in fact the developer is merely lending the money in hopes of getting paid back later:

In exchange for approval, Brookfield would provide massive proffers, including more than $100 million in transportation improvements.

It was these concessions that have had the community seriously considering whether Brentswood may be a good deal for the county. Brookfield's big selling point -- that the company will pay for the reconstruction of the Gainesville interchange and widening of part of I-66 -- has been a special point of interest.
That's where Brookfield comes in. The company has agreed to essentially reconstruct the interchange itself, a proposal that has drawn a great deal of interest from the community
But on Thursday night, residents were not happy to hear that Brookfield wouldn't be paying for the entire reconstruction project, as many had previously believed.

As that piece of information sank in, much of the audience began laughing."So they're not paying for it," called out several members of the audience. "The majority of that project is being paid by VDOT," Utz responded. "By the taxpayers!" another man yelled. "Yes," said Utz. From that point on, the audience, which had previously seemed somewhat curious about the plans, became openly hostile toward the idea.

I was part of an e-mail exchange regarding the proposal, which I will repeat with permission of the participants in the succeeding thread.

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