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Celebrate North project alive

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After almost dying Tuesday night, a proposed 692-apartment development in the Celebrate Virginia North community could still come to fruition.

Debate continued late into Tuesday night at the Stafford Board of Supervisors meeting before the Silver Cos. two-in-one project was deferred.

Supervisor Paul Milde suggested waiting 45 days after the board heard a presentation on the project, along with comments from the community.

The county staff and the Planning Commission recommended denying the project, which includes housing for federal law enforcement trainees as well as high-end rentals for the public.

“This horse has been beat, and beat bad,” Hartwood Supervisor Gary Snellings said of the project that was first proposed more than two years ago. “I don’t know what you expect to accomplish in 45 days.”

 

Snellings opposed the Celebrate Virginia North project based on low proffers, it being outside the guidelines of the county Comprehensive Plan and the emphasis on the “build it and they will come.”

The project has the two components that the developer says are linked together, as part of a rezoning and a change to the definition of the recreational business campus zoning district. Supervisor Bob Thomas said perhaps the pieces could be split and considered separately.

On the north end of Celebrate Virginia Parkway, Silver Cos. proposes to build housing for a growing federal law enforcement training facility. The existing 50,000 square-foot gated training center is currently used by about 100 instructors and 380 trainees at any time. Adding two or three more similar-sized buildings could bring that up to 200,000 square feet, serving up to 1,500 trainees.

Having housing available makes the site more attractive for the long-term government leases, said Chris Hornung, vice president for planning and engineering for Silver. The rezoning calls for a secured 192-unit complex to be constructed to specifically serve the the armed federal agents undergoing required training.

“The more amenities we have, the better our chance to compete,” Hornung said.

Meanwhile, that project is tied to a 480-unit high-end apartment complex on the southern end of the four-mile parkway, closer to the Rappahannock River. Amenities could include garages, pools, car washes, gas grills and gyms. Silver Cos. would own and manage the complex.

Overflow trainees could rent units if needed, but most would be leased by regular citizens. George Mason University professor Steven Fuller said the site could draw empty nesters looking to downsize, as well as young professionals without children.

Snellings questioned that logic. “What do you think is going to attract empty nesters to [U.S.] 17? There is literally nothing there.”

The project would include a 1-acre park and trail passing the river and Civil War sites.

The land is zoned recreational business campus, and Silver Cos. is asking the county to allow a certain number of multi-family non age restricted housing to that zoning.

“We’re not opening the door for more units in the future—it’s only what we’re proposing today,” Hornung said.

The northern piece of land is zoned heavy industrial, and the requested rezoning would change it to RBC.

After two hours of presentations by county staff and the project’s applicant, the public hearing opened, with essentially two camps: those living in the nearby housing developments opposed to the project, and residents of similar apartments in other localities in support. A few Realtors and property managers from other localities also voiced support for the project.

Several residents of The Haven and Seasons in Fredericksburg’s Celebrate Virginia spoke positively of their living experience.

One woman whose children are now grown said she could have lived anywhere after selling a high-priced home on 10 acres—and she chose the luxury apartments. A large draw was that the complex had few kids, and she wouldn’t have to worry about any upkeep.

Bob Evans, 27, a soon-to-be lawyer, said he and his wife moved to a city complex after not finding any high-end sites that suited their lifestyle in Stafford.

“I think we’re the kind of people you’d want to attract,” said Evans, using the description of upwardly mobile professionals.

But other speakers rejected the comments from Fuller, the economist, about the type of people would be drawn to the Stafford complex.

Will Robinson said his two children, in their early 20s, are homeowners. And he and his wife have lived off U.S. 17 since the 1980s, and worry about more cars on roads near their home.

“It’s not uncommon we get trapped in our neighborhood because of the heavy rush hours,” Robinson said.

A traffic analysis found that daily trips on Greenbank Road could increase from 576 of 4,116, without reducing the level of service.

“That is just a little narrow thing there,” Snellings said.

It did not look at effects on U.S. 17, which Snellings said concerned him.

The project includes no money in transportation proffers.

Former Hartwood Planning Commission member Holly Hazard said the total proffers seemed too low, but complimented Hornung on outreach in the community

Under the county’s current recommendations, she said that the developer should promise at least $16 million to offset impacts to county resources, like roads, parks and schools.

Silver Cos. has proffered $1,000 in cash for the 480 units; if the other 192 secured units convert to regular rentals, the company would then pay the county $5,160 per unit.

“I don’t know why those become so much more,” Hazard said. “That is of concern—there is an impact from these apartments.”

 

Robert Alton said he brought his family of six to Stafford to get away from Prince William County. “It sounded good on paper at first,” Alton said of their previous house in a development that included apartments. “It turned into one big mess.”

 

 

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975

kthisdell@freelancestar.com

 

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