Spotsylvania News

Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

RSS feed of this blog

Concentrating Growth

MORE: Read more Spotsylvania County news

If you build it, they will come.

If you don’t, they will come anyway.

That was the message at today’s Spotsylvania County work session on urban development areas. The meeting was a joint session between the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission. Some supervisors asked about how the county would pay for the 40,000 new county residents expected in the next 10 or 20 years.

“What we’re doing here is planning to concentrate that in one area,” said planning director Wanda Parrish.

Consultants told the supervisors that the new residents would use schools, fire stations and roads regardless of whether they go into high-density developments or are spread out through the county.

But in a high-density neighborhood, county officials could ask developers to pay for that infrastructure, consultants said.

T.C. Waddy said, “What it all comes down to is the taxpayers, the homeowners. They’ve got to dig deep to pay for this and the people in Richmond are just sitting there telling us what to do.”

Supervisors made several references to Richmond, where state legislators created a law requiring fast-growing localities to create UDAs.

But a consultant told Waddy, “Actually, this will save taxpayers money.”

Parrish said the proffer system would still be in place, and so developers could be asked to provide new roads, schools or fire stations.

Supervisor Benny Pitts said it’s up to county officials to make sure the developers provide such perks. He said the UDAs allow the county to tell the developers what officials want, instead of developers telling the officials what they want.

“I see this as a great opportunity for Spotsylvania County,” Pitts said.

Supervisors and planning commission members also worried about the levels of density proposed and about the access road planned for the UDA near the proposed VRE station near New Post.


  • LarryG

    I thought it was clear that the consultants had no clue about the infrastructure planning that has to be done for growth. Their view was totally focused on the “benefits” of the dense growth almost as if one can specify a geographic location and just do it.

    The state does NOT REQUIRE designating UDAs where you do’t have the infrastructure. In fact they tell you to focus on places where you already have infrastructure and to allow more dense development in that area.

    The state also says that at the 130K population threshold that the minimum du should be 8. Significantly, both Spotsylvania and Stafford want to not have a minimum of 8du but 4du which is 1/4 acre subdivisions.

    Several counties in Va simply designated their EXISTING growth areas as UDAs – basically saying that they WOULD ENTERTAIN – developer proposals for dense mixed-use development.

    I thought the water/sewer folks were arrogant. We did not want to know if we had available water/sewer in that area. We want to know WHERE it is Geographically and where it is not and how much capacity we have. How many residential units worth of water/sewer capacity do we have in that area?

    Is it 10, 20, 30, 40 , 50 thousand residential units or equivalent. to what geographic area is it available? Is it available from route 1 north to route 2 and south to Thornburg?

    What is the AVAILABLE capacity of VRE? Are we going to designate MORE residential in the VRE small area than VRE can carry? If we do – how much traffic will be generated and what kinds and cost of road infrastructure will be needed such that more development will not overwhelm the Route 1 to Massaponax I-95 interchange?

    UDAs in exurban bedroom communities like Spotsylvania will NOT work like UDAs in dense areas like NoVa and Richmond because people will NOT live AND WORK near the UDA but instead many will commute from there to NoVa jobs either via VRE or I-95.

    UDAs in places like Spotsylvania will be DUMB GROWTH if they do not recognize that people who live here will be COMMUTERS who will need road infrastructure to commute on.

    I am not opposed to growth in the county nor UDAs. I think both can be beneficial for the county and it’s citizens IF they are PLANNED intelligently and so far.

    The planners alluded to the need for a Master Plan approach to that area – to their credit – but the reaction of the folks on the PC and BOS indicated that they could not tell land owners how that land will be developed.


    What is the BOS and PC doing when they designate land uses in the COMP PLAN and Zoning districts?

    When they designate their vision for the Jackson Gateway are they not telling landowners how they’d like to see that area developed?

    At the end of the meeting my main impression was that we have a bunch of players involved in this – and they are all on different wave-lengths – not on the same train.

    The same LAW that the planners say REQUIRE them to designate a UDA – ALSO REQUIRES them to submit to VDOT their UDA for a 627 Review. How come that is not listed on the timeline of actions?

    And again – the water/sewer guys need to provide a comprehensive analysis of how much capacity they have (and don’t have) and where it is geographically – and where it is not.

    But THANK YOU – Ms. Umble for a good concise report. You’re going to give Dan a run for his money!


  • bhaas

    As I posted elsewhere….after viewing the joint work session of the BOS and PC this afternoon; I can honestly say that I still do not have a good feeling about these UDA’s.

    On or about November 1, 2010, I sent the following message to the BOS.

    (In 2007 the General Assembly passed HB 3202, the 2007 Transportation Act. There were three provisions related to land use in this legislation. 1) It created Urban Development Areas (UDA’s). 2) It broadened existing Transportation Impact Fees (TIF’s). 3) It established General Impact Fee authority linked to the creation of Urban Transportation Service Districts (UTSD’s).

    As I recall, the BOS rejected UTSD’s and the General Impact Fee authority after reviewing the Tischler-Bise Study. Basically, I further recall, this rejection was based on the potential that “by-right” developers/landowners would have to pay impact fees for infrastructure needs brought about by their developments.

    In the case of UTSD’s there was no legislative requirement to create a minimum number so there was no penalty for the County to reject same. The other side of that coin is that this action left the burden of at least “by-right” development infrastructure squarely on the tax payers backs.

    I am unsure just where the BOS action left the “broadened existing Transportation Impact Fees.” However, that is not the purpose of this communication.

    We have recently watched the BOS “debate,” perhaps “wrestle” would be a better description, these Urban Development Areas (UDA’s). In this case, the legislation requires that at least one UDA be created and reported by a date certain determined by locality growth goals selected by the BOS. There may also be a penalty provision involving repayment of the consultant fee grant for failure to report by the specified deadline.

    In any event, it appears the BOS will create at least one UDA and likely two or three as per staff and consultant recommendations. There is also another side of this coin. These UDA’s carry certain rather restrictive infrastructure requirements that when considered in the light of the BOS’s UTSD/Impact Fee decision, may again leave the tax payer burdened with paying the infrastructure costs for developers.

    That pretty much sums up the situation as the 10/26/2010 BOS meeting closed unless some action was taken in closed session of which I am not aware.

    It is my view that the staff and the VDOT consultant is pushing the BOS very hard to pursue “Greenfield” UDA’s here. In addition, they seem to be pushing for some rapid decision. What is the hurry?

    If time is of the essence here, it would seem wiser to declare the Primary Settlement District (PSD) as our UDA, as suggested by Messrs. Jackson and, I believe, Logan and entertain any developer proposals that employ higher density re-development using New Urbanism principles. This would seem to me to best preserve Planning Commission and BOS options while protecting the tax payers from unneeded liabilities for infrastructure costs.

    Another alternative that would preserve options and protect tax payers would be to declare the Lafayette Blvd/Four Mile Fork Area as our UDA and again entertain any developer proposals that employ higher density re-development using New Urbanism principles.

    I believe the staff/consultant recommendations to date are overly complicating this issue and will eventually lead to serious impacts on the tax payers of Spotsylvania.)

    I received a reply from Mr. Pitts that included a Staff response to my message. In addition, I received a private communication from another member of the BOS thanking me for the input.

    My thanks also to Ms. Umble for a fine report.

  • bhaas

    The following is the summary of the staff response I received from Mr. Pitts.

    “In summary, the pros of designating the entire Primary Settlement District as a UDA are:
    -ease of application/identification

    The cons are:
    -obligatory expansion of the Primary Settlement District after 20 years
    -poorly connected ‘walkable’ neighborhoods -additional infrastructure costs.”

    Thus, we have the basis of the County reasoning for where we stand today on UDA’s.

    Just a further word about “walkable” neighborhoods. The fundamental reasoning behind the UDA concept is live, work, play. That reasoning assumes that adequate jobs, housing, shopping, and recreational facilities will be available and concentrated in the UDA.

    The “fly in the ointment” in Spotsylvania is JOBS. This area can not, for the foreseeable future, effectively compete with the northern Virginia or DC federal job markets. That means that Spotsy will remain a “commuter-centric” community. That is contradictory with the underlying philosophy of UDA’s.

  • LarryG

    Mr. Pitts response does not ring true. Most of the UDA type development in NoVa and Richmond – the places where the planners are taking the BOS/PC on tours are not greenfield rural UDAs but instead re-development UDAs where there is already water/sewer, transit and JOBS.

    There is also no mandatory expansion of the Primary Settlement area until the growth potential is reached and if they used 8DU as the threshold – as the state allows – then they have met the letter and spirit of the law – and several other counties like Henrico and Chesterfield have done exactly this as they have designated existing water/sewer served areas that are already served by transit – as their designated UDAs.

    We had a proposal from Mr. Garrison for what amounts to a UDA along Lafayette Blvd and Mr. Pitss voted against it because he said it did not pay for itself.

    If that is the same standard that Mr. Pitts is going to use for the UDAs then I applaud his principles because if you cannot develop a UDA that will pay for itself where water/sewer and road infrastructure already exists – there is no way you could meet that standard with greenfield UDAs that lack sufficient infrastructure.for the UDA mixed-use densities.

    I’m not opposed to an intelligent, well-planned approach to UDA and I agree with Mr. Haas. What is the rush?

    Do the letter of the law. designate ONE UDA in the primary settlement area and then start looking at other possible sites and every candidate site should be evaluated with respect to the infrastructure costs necessary to support it BEFORE it is designated.

    All of these UDA-like develoments in NoVa and Richmond – are also backfitting walking/pedestrian facilities so why is that an obstacle down here but not up there?

  • Martin (Marty) Work

    Supv. Pitts has apposed development that does not pay for itself, in the past and in his District, But, for the sake of appearances only, the vote went to the developer who will not be applying his share of the development cost of his high density housing, which brings us back to the same point of contracting and developing in Spotsylvania County with the development community dictating what what Mix-use and UDAs will be, whether the PUBLIC agree or not.

    What part of Spotsylvania County’s latest claim that they “could ask” or “could be asked” to have Development pay their own way, to the bank, and cash it in at the end of the day. Since there is nothing on record by Spotsylvania County to cause developers to pay their own way, what role does the County’s take when all County and elected officials can’t promise anything more than a “COULD”?

    Why do these meeting come without specificity? Why are they so vague in details that the public walks away wondering whether they are being held hostage by their own tax liabilities being formulated by a Focus Group, County Staff and elected officials. Staff is not pushing this agenda. They are doing what they have been told to do by the BOS and THEIR public and private partners who have already planned and designed their vision and what part of Spotsylvania County will belong to them if not otherwise held accountable by the County public and constituents.

    As with TRICORD selling off their “New Post” UDA to a soccer franchise/complex, SILVER and COSNER are doing the same with their Massaponax Corridor land holding. Where does anyone think Silver is coming from in proposing the development of a 600 unit apartment development on Rt 17? Silver sells the property to outside development interest and resources and what does anyone think the BOS are going to do about the advancement of high density populations in the Massaponax arena? Check with the Spotsylvania Planning Department, Commission, BOS or Focus Group, without minutes, and ask them where these plans are and the role UDAs are going to play in their overall vision of what Spotsylvania County is going to look like in the next 5 years.

    Can’t wait until the County lays out their plan for diverting significant mobilized traffic through the Lee’s Hill District, with State and Federal planning, landuse and transportation working agendas or haven’t they said anything to you about this futue expansion?

    This strategy has been on the books for years. So, where are YOU going to be standing when the other shoe falls or does Larryg and Bill Haas have to draw you a map before it’s too late

  • LarryG

    I really don’t have a problem with the UDA concept. But I have concerns with the way they are being implemented, in part, because there are a lot of ramifications that need to be carefully considered not the least of which is that UDAs in exurban commuter-centric bedroom communities will not function the same way that UDAs function in more urbanized areas like NoVa and Richmond especially if the exurban UDAs are “greenfield” that lack the necessary infrastructure and facilities to support them.

    Despite the fact that the county utility people said that the water/sewer situation was “ok” and “already planned” – in their own water/sewer master plan – they point out that the planned DENSITY of a prospective area – has a big impact on design.

    It’s a simple thing. How big do the pipes need to be to transport …say TWICE as much for higher density development than lower.

    The geography plays a big role because gravity-fed sewer has to essentially follow watersheds – that’s why you’ll often see the sewer lines running along creeks.

    If the sewage treatment plant is not in the same watershed – pump stations must be built – and they must be sized according to the planned build-out capacity of the areas to be served.

    So even if the utilities guys say they’ve got it “covered”, they owe an analysis of how UDAs will affect the designs and planning because ultimately – the taxpayers in the county get involved in the financing of new infrastructure even if it will be “paid back” when hook-ups are bought.

    You can’t have a UDA without the water/sewer being AVAILABLE – BEFORE the construction is finished and people moving in.

    Who fronts the money for this?

    Usually you float a bond at a certain interest rate and just like any other loan – it goes for a number of years and payments have to be made and a lot depends on how much existing funds we already have from selling existing connections and in the economy of the last few years – my understanding is that we have not been selling near as many water/sewer connections as we thought we would be.

    Because of this – you just cannot mark a spot on a map for a UDA.

    The geography is important and how much density you have for that geography is important because the size of the pipes and pumps, etc will vary according to the geography.

    Finally – when you designate higher densities somewhere – it means that the build-out scenario for the county will change because the capacity of the sewage treatment plant is essentially being reallocated.

    To put this another way – We do not have unlimited sewage treatment capacity. It is finite and it will likely be either capped or get much more expensive as nutrient levels are reduced.

    That means we only have so much capacity and if you increase density some where – then it ultimately might mean less availability – elsewhere than originally planned.

    The are questions that the Utilities Dept should answer – comprehensively but the decisions are beyond their purview – although can and are abdicated if local officials don’t heed the numbers.

    In other words – we got the process wrong.

    You don’t designate UDAs FIRST and then try to figure out water/sewer.

    You look at your water/sewer planning and capacity – from a county and a geographic perspective – and that knowledge should help you decide WHERE to put UDAs and how large and dense they can be – given the geography, and cost to put in bigger pipes, etc.

    You just can’t put a push-pin on a map and then build water/sewer to it.

    So – you might have an existing railroad and you might have 6 potential rail station locations but providing water/sewer to them – and the development around them will be different – depending on the geography and I did not see that information provided when the rail station locations were analyzed.

    Not the rail station per se – but the water/sewer needs of the “small area” plan around the rail station.

    Where is that data?

    There ought to be a detailed water/sewer infrastructure plan for UDAs to reveal the extent and cost and just like roads – not all facilities cost the same. Some can be very expensive – because of the geography.

    We should know the financial implications of various geographic sites a part of the decision process.

    One of the simple questions that I feel needs to be answered is what would be the eventual build-out of the area around the VRE station and how much water/sewer should be planned for and what will it cost and finally how much of our available capacity will be used and how much left for other development in the county?

  • MonarchRH

    Quite the conundrum…
    I agree that PSD should probably fall under the UDA designations because the concepts put forth by the new urbanism way of developing really allow for integration into existent communities.