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Spotsy planners delay decision

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Proposed Heritage Woods development in Spotsylvania County

The Spotsylvania County Planning Commission isn’t ready to endorse a proposed large-scale development off U.S. 1 near Cosner’s Corner.

Commission members on Wednesday voted 6–0 to defer a decision on the proposed Heritage Woods neighborhood—which would have up to 1,060 homes, town houses and apartments on 378 acres just south of the Lee’s Parke subdivision and west of U.S. 1—until August 7. Mary Lee Carter, who represents the Lee Hill District on the Planning Commission, recused herself because she owns land near the planned development.

The developer, Arizona-based Walton International Group, is asking that the property be rezoned from rural and commercial to “planned development housing.” The Planning Commission will make a recommendation on that request, and the Board of Supervisors will have the final say.

Five residents spoke at a public hearing on the proposal, and several of them voiced concerns about traffic. Planning Commission member Richard Thompson noted that the new homes would have a “tremendous impact” on roads in the area.

“I think we need to look at what else we can do other than just the turning lanes” into the development, Thompson told the developer.

The developer has offered to pay $13.6 million in proffers, which are voluntary payments to help offset a development’s impact on public facilities like roads and schools.

But that’s about $14.5 million less than what the county guidelines say it should pay. County staff is recommending that the development be denied because they say it doesn’t pay for itself.

Meanwhile, a consultant for the developer says the project would more than pay for itself, even without any proffers.

Part of the reason for the discrepancy is that the developer and the county disagree on what the homes would be assessed at for taxing purposes.

The developer’s economic impact study says the assessed value of the homes would be the same as the selling price. But county assessors say a new home’s value declines after it has been occupied.

Thompson noted that any real estate tax revenue would be based on the county’s assessments, regardless of whether the appraisals are accurate.

“Therein lies the problem,” Planning Commission Chair Robert Stuber said.

Planning Commission member John Gustafson criticized the county’s proffer guidelines for recommending that developers pay the same fee for all homes, no matter what they are worth. He requested information on what other recent developments are paying in proffers.

The developer says it would take 10 years to build Heritage Woods. It is envisioned to have 725 detached homes, 147 townhouses and 188 apartments.

Walton International, which is proposing the development, is a real estate investment firm, not a builder. If Heritage Woods is approved, the company will develop the land to sell to builders.

Walton owns a total of 1,850 acres in Spotsylvania and Stafford counties.

In other business, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended a rezoning request for Courthouse Village near the county’s government center and courthouse complex.

W.J. Vakos and Co. is asking the county to change the nearly 300-acre property’s zoning to mixed-use, which is a zoning category that the Board of Supervisors approved last year to give developers more flexibility in their projects.

The Spotsylvania-based developer envisions that Courthouse Village could eventually include 500,000 square feet of office, retail and civic uses, as well as 1,500 residential units including town houses, apartments, condos and single-family homes. The development would have a walkable, town-like feel.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402