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Will Stafford allow more apartments?

BY KATIE THISDELL

Stafford County needs a more-balanced rental market that includes luxury apartments, a George Mason University professor says.

Stephen Fuller made the case to the county’s Planning Commission on Wednesday as part of the public hearing for a two-in-one apartment project rezoning on the Celebrate Virginia Parkway.

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“You wouldn’t build a project like this unless you were assured of having a customer base for it. I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of customers,” said Fuller, professor of public policy who studies growth and housing trends.

A high-end 480-apartment complex in Celebrate Virginia North off U.S. 17 is part of a package deal proposed by the Silver Cos., with a 196-unit secured complex for use by federal agents at a growing law enforcement training center.

Planning commissioners have until December to make a decision. They held two nights of public hearings.

Fuller, who wrote a report last year that focused on the housing needs facing Northern Virginia, said Stafford needs to add at least 10,000 units in the next decade to accommodate a changing population and growing workforce.

“An increasing share of these should be rentals,” Fuller said.

Tenants would likely fall into two groups, Fuller said: young professionals who marry later, have fewer children and don’t view home ownership as a solid investment; and baby boomers and empty-nesters who no longer need their large houses but want to remain in their longtime communities.

“You’re able to cherry-pick the development if you have the housing to support it,” Fuller said.

“The higher-end jobs and the workforce that goes with those jobs are going to want to have housing.”

He said that communities with good, affordable housing in all price ranges will be better positioned to capture future workers and businesses.

Chris Hornung, vice president for planning and engineering for Silver, said the  secured apartments would be subject to the county’s transient occupancy taxes since they would typically be occupied for less than 30 days.

The larger, public complex would have more single-bedroom units than similar projects, Hornung said, to accommodate the anticipated clientele and reduce the impact on county schools.

Monthly rates could range from $1,350 to $1,700.

But during the public hearing’s second night, those who live in nearby Celebrate by Del Webb and Battleground Estates said they didn’t see the need for apartments, especially ones with such high prices.

Resident Phillip Smith, a federal employee, said he’s asked many D.C. workers their opinions on living in southern Stafford.

“Most of them stated before they would pay those types of fees they would want something much closer to the D.C. area,” Smith said. “They would not look at something that has no amenities [for social opportunities] right around it.”

Several U.S. 17 area business owners and property managers told the Planning Commission that they support the project.

Robert Schaul, who co-owns the new restaurant Bam Hero’s, Burgers, & Wings located on the parkway, said if more people lived nearby, it would be better for business.

“We’re trying to do the best we can,” said Schaul. “It would help the restaurant  and build upon the economy.”

The project rides on several other matters that are before the Board of Supervisors, including an amendment to the recreational business campus zoning district, and improvements to the parkway. The board is considering a loan to bring the four-mile road up to state standards.

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975

kthisdell@freelancestar.com

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