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Lindley Estes is a business writer for The Free Lance-Star and This blog is on Fredericksburg-area business. Send an e-mail to Lindley Estes.

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Builders sue Stafford over cluster subdivision rules

Five residential developers filed lawsuits against Stafford County and its Board of Supervisors this week regarding a recent change to the county’s cluster subdivision ordinance.

The lawsuits, many of which were filed by local land-use attorney Clark Leming, argue that Stafford did not properly advertise public hearings leading up to a Feb. 19 Board of Supervisors vote to amend the cluster ordinance.

The county originally adopted its cluster ordinance last June. The purpose is to allow homes to be clustered on one portion of new residential developments and leave the remainder as open space. Developers like cluster subdivisions because infrastructure costs are lower.

As originally adopted, the cluster ordinance required the average lot size in agricultural zoning districts to be 1.5 acres if lots used well and septic services. For agriculturally zoned cluster subdivisions connected to public utilities, that dropped down to 1 acre.

That created a “density bonus” for cluster communities connected to public water and sewer, and hence higher potential profits for those developers.

Supervisors expressed concern about the effect the bonus would have on county growth, and on Feb. 19 voted to eliminate it.

The five lawsuits were filed by developers who had applied for cluster subdivisions since last June: Elm Street Development, D.R. Horton Inc., Poplar Corner Farm LLC, Southgate Development LLC and Michael and Anita Stonehill. Builders say more lawsuits are possible.

The lawsuits, which are largely similar, argue that the county did not properly notify affected developers of the possible change before the vote was taken Feb. 19. They say the amendment is thus “void and unenforceable.” Alternatively, the lawsuits ask the county to approve the developers’ applications.

Stafford spokeswoman Cathy Vollbrecht said in an email that the county attorney’s staff “plans to file responsive pleadings in each of these cases to defend the County’s interests.” She did not comment on the merits of the cases.

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