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Developer wants parking deck at Spotsy VRE station

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Owners of the 25 acres that Spotsylvania County wants to buy for a Virginia Railway Express station parking lot say they have a better idea for land in Crossroads Business Park off U.S. 17.

The property owners, George Lester and Fitz Johnson, say they have a vision for the development that would include parking decks for VRE commuters instead of a sprawling county-owned surface lot currently planned there.

However, Spotsylvania officials don’t agree with the developers’ plan to lease the parking lot property at the county’s first VRE station.

The Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors recently approved Crossroads Associates LLC’s rezoning for Crossroads Station, which includes 610 apartment units and commercial space next to the VRE station site. They also hope to develop another 650 acres they own in that area west of New Post.

County officials said that while they understand the property owners’ interest, their offer to lease the land for the parking lot is not acceptable.

The county has asked the Virginia Department of Transportation to handle the property acquisition, through its power of eminent domain, if necessary. VDOT’s Kelly Hannon said the department plans to handle the land negotiations “as quickly as we can.”

The Crossroads Station plans revolve around a relatively new approach to development that ties mixed-use residential, commercial and office development to rail access. The property owners compared their project to Northern Virginia developments, such as Reston Place, a massive public–private development tied to the Metro Silver Line. That project, which includes an underground parking structure, is still being built.

The idea is to create high-density growth areas where people can live, shop and work, as well as gain easy access to rail service, in Spotsylvania’s case the commuter VRE trains.

Spotsylvania County, like other VRE member jurisdictions, has to provide the parking for the commuter rail patrons.

County and VRE officials had planned to have the station open by now, but it looks like that won’t happen until later this year at the earliest.

Johnson and Lester offered to lease the land to the county for a 1,500-space parking lot because they say a pair of parking structures eventually could be built on the property. That, in turn, would allow them to build offices on the spot where the surface lot is currently planned.

“It’s the best long-term vision for the county,” Johnson said Thursday. “It could be a huge economic development generator.”

He said that, as he understands it, if the county buys the land for the lot, that would kill the possibility of building the office space.

“I understand where they’re coming from,” Spotsylvania County Administrator Doug Barnes said Thursday.

The lease deal, said Barnes, would “give the owners control” of the land. That’s something the county doesn’t want.

“We’ve always wanted to buy the land. We’ve always told them that,” he said. “We were never interested in a lease.”

Supervisor Gary Skinner, who also serves on the VRE Operations Board and has pressed for the station for some time now, agreed with Barnes.

“I didn’t think it was a good lease for us,” he said.

Johnson said the county wouldn’t lose control because under the 99-year lease offered, the owners would have to gain county approval for any changes to the site.

Barnes said that at some point parking decks could be built in the area, but the county can’t be concerned with that right now.

“I need ground space now,” he said.

Skinner said there is a big difference in what the county offered to pay for the property and the owners’ counteroffer.

The county had an appraisal done, but the owners did not.

Johnson, who has been in the real estate business since 1969, said they determined the land’s value based on nearby “comparables.” He said they will have a full appraisal completed if needed.

While Johnson still prefers a lease deal, he understands that may not happen.

“We will sell it,” he said, “but we want fair market value.”

Skinner said the VRE station will add value to the other property Johnson and Lester own.

“That becomes very popular and valuable land,” Skinner said. “I think they’ve got to look at the big picture.”

Skinner wants construction of the station and parking lot to start soon.

“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “I think we’re doing everything possible.”

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

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