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‘Regular folks’ not in proffer group

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A who’s-who list of local developers will serve on a Spotsylvania County committee that will recommend how much homebuilders should pay to offset the cost of growth.

Spotsylvania Planning Commission Chairman Robert Stuber, who appointed the committee, says he’s giving the business community a much-needed voice. The 10-member group will recommend changes to the county’s policy on proffers, which are voluntary fees developers pay to localities to help offset the cost of more homes on schools, roads and other infrastructure.

But Cristine Lynch, a former Planning Commission member who often butted heads with Stuber, takes issue with the balance of power on the committee.

“This is putting the fox in charge of the hen house,” said Lynch, who wondered why “regular folks” were not included.

The committee includes Stuber; Planning Commission member John Gustafson, a Realtor; an unnamed rep from the Fredericksburg Area Builders Association; and five local developers: Dave Anderson of W.J. Vakos and Co.; Fitz Johnson; David Lesser of Fried Cos.; Lee Garrison; and Mike Jones of Tricord Inc. Prominent local attorneys Clark Leming and Charlie Payne, who often represent developers in rezoning cases, are also members.

Leming, who has said the county has a lot of work to do on its cash proffer guidelines, has a client who sued Spotsylvania in 2012 over its refusal to lower proffers for an already approved development.

“I’m not sure that it matters who serves on the committee as long as the established guidelines for calculating proffers are utilized,” Leming wrote in an email.

It’s unclear how much of an impact a change to the proffer policy would actually have. Supervisors haven’t been following the existing guidelines, which call for $33,285 per detached home on property that has been rezoned for development.

Johnson, whose 610-apartment Crossroads Station mixed-use development was approved last year with no cash proffers, called the fees a “shadow tax” that result in higher prices for homebuyers.

“You need knowledgeable developers on the committee to design a system that doesn’t crush new development and is fair to the new consumers who truly pay the proffers,” said Johnson, who is proposing another development near Cosner’s Corner that would include about 2,000 apartments and townhouses.

Supervisors have waived cash proffers for at least two other developers on the committee, Tricord’s Jones and Vakos’ Anderson. They approved Jones’ 425-home New Post development last September and signed off on Vakos’ 1,550-home Courthouse Village project earlier in 2013.

The developers of Crossroads Station, New Post and Courthouse Village argued that the projects would more than pay for themselves. All are envisioned to have shops and offices, in addition to the homes.

Planning commissioner Gustafson says the development community has a lot of data that “would make the proffers truly more reflective of the real world.”

“The reason for so many development people, in my opinion, is that the private sector does not think with a single voice,” Gustafson, who has criticized Spotsylvania’s current proffer policy, wrote in an email. “There are going to be varied opinions within the development community. The government, on the other hand, is just one government.”

He added that he’d like to see a proffer policy that is “transparent and mathematically truthful.”

Lynch, the former commissioner, said the committee also should include “regular folks” who would have to live with crowded schools, drive on congested roads and pay more taxes to cover costs that lax proffers would not.

With all of the developers on the committee, she said, any decisions will likely be “skewed to their benefit.”

“Why are there no seats at the table for citizens?” she asked in an email.

Stuber said he doubts all of the committee’s suggestions will be approved but said he wanted to make sure to give business people a say. The Board of Supervisors will ultimately approve any changes to the county’s proffer policy.

“The business community in general and the development community in particular have been the target of government at every level for the past several decades,” Stuber wrote in an email. “Federal, state and even local regulations have been developed almost entirely without input from those most affected. For years, there has been no balance. That’s changing.”

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402 jbranscome@freelancestar.com 

COMMISSIONERS RECOMMEND REDUCING SUMMERFIELD PROFFERS

The Spotsylvania County Planning Commission recently voted 7–0 to recommend lowering cash proffers for the planned Summerfield development off U.S. 1.

Landowner Marion E. Hicks is asking the county to reduce the 34-acre development’s cash proffers by about $1.5 million, from $3.2 million to $1.7 million. He hopes to sell the land, on Hudgins Road near the Fredericksburg city line, but says the current proffers have rendered the property unmarketable.

The commission’s recommendation will be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors, which will have the final say.

The issue has lingered for more than two years.

In March 2012, supervisors rejected Hicks’ first request to reduce the proffers by about $1.9 million.

So Hicks, who is in his 90s and a former Spotsylvania supervisor, sued the county. The lawsuit is pending.

In February, Circuit Judge J. Howe Brown agreed to indefinitely delay a trial that had been scheduled for this month.

A court order said that “the parties are diligently pursuing a settlement.”

Spotsylvania supervisors have reduced cash proffers before. In April 2013, they cut about $240,000 from the proffers for the planned 43-home River Glen neighborhood off River Road.

—Jeff Branscome

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