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Proffer dispute resolved in Spotsy

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Spotsylvania County has put an end to a two-year legal dispute over fees intended to offset a 127-home subdivision’s impact on schools, roads and other infrastructure.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 5–2 to reduce the planned Summerfield development’s cash proffers by about $1.5 million, from $3.2 million to $1.7 million. Supervisors Timothy McLaughlin and Paul Trampe cast the dissenting votes.

The 34-acre development will be built on Hudgins Road, off U.S. 1 near the Fredericksburg city line.

Landowner Marion E. Hicks, who hopes to sell the property to a developer, sued Spotsylvania in April 2012 after supervisors rejected his application to reduce the cash proffers by about $1.9 million. He plans to drop that suit now that his latest request has been approved, his attorney said.

The Planning Commission last week unanimously recommended approval of the proffer reduction. But county planning staff advised against it, saying that the development would not pay for itself if the fees were lowered.

Hicks, a former Spotsylvania supervisor who is in his 90s, agreed to the higher, $3.2 million cash proffer amount when Summerfield was approved in 2009. But the recession, coupled with the “economically infeasible” cash proffers, rendered the property unmarketable, said attorney Patricia Healy, who represents Hicks.

The county will initially receive a lump-sum payment of about $400,000, according to the revised proffers. The remaining proffers will be paid on a per-home basis as the subdivision is built.

Spotsylvania can spend the money on transportation projects or “other county uses.”

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

And in the past year, they’ve approved three large mixed-use developments with no cash proffers.

Opinion of the fees is mixed.

Some criticize them as another tax that is passed on to homebuyers. Others say they are necessary to pay for capital projects without raising taxes.

For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013, 39 Virginia localities collected a total of about $83.5 million in revenue from cash proffers, according to the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Spotsylvania collected $966,559 during that period.

Spotsylvania recently formed a 10-member committee to recommend changes to the county’s proffer policy, which recommends a payment of $33,285 per detached home.

The committee includes two planning commissioners; five developers; two attorneys who routinely represent developers in rezoning cases; and a rep from the Fredericksburg Area Builders Association.

Former Planning Commission member Cristine Lynch criticized the committee’s membership as “putting the fox in charge of the hen house.”

Planning Commission Chairman and committee member Robert Stuber, who appointed the group, said he wanted to give businesspeople a say. He wrote in an email the developers have “been the target of government at every level for the past several decades.”

In other business, supervisors voted 6–1 to let the county oversee a more stringent, state-mandated stormwater-management program. Supervisor David Ross cast the dissenting vote. The other option was to have the state Department of Environmental Quality manage the program.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402