Spotsylvania News

Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Mapping the future

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Spotsylvania County can’t erect a fence to keep newcomers out, Supervisor Benny Pitts said at last night’s board meeting. So if the county can’t stop growth, supervisors should plan for it.

And that’s the point of a state law requiring fast-growing localities to designate urban development areas–high-density communities where residents can live, work and play.

Some Spotsylvania supervisors and planning commission members have expressed frustration that the state is telling them how to plan their county’s future.

But at last night’s meeting, there also seemed to be some confusion over the UDA’s purpose. A few officials opposed the two proposed UDAs, because they thought that the extra people would be a problem for the county.

Supervisor T.C. Waddy said:

“If we get 40,000 more people in Spotsylvania County, will the county afford services for all these people–education, fire and rescue, transportation…I don’t think many of us will be able to afford to live in Spotsylvania County then.”

Chairman Pitts replied:

“These people are coming anyway…It’s up to this county to dictate how we want it to develop.”

Basically, it’s the opposite of “If you build it, they will come.” More like: If they come, you should build it.

Planning Director Wanda Parrish explained that UDAs aren’t supposed to attract growth–they’re supposed to concentrate in one area, to save money on schools, fire stations, roads.

The supervisors and planning commission members met last night to get an update on the county’s UDA plans. Two have been mapped out. They’re being called, for now, the Route 17 UDA and the Four-Mile Fork UDA.

The Four-Mile Fork UDA, as proposed, would stretch from the Four-Mile Fork area to the area just about the Spotsylvania Interchange with I-95.  The Route 17 UDA would stretch from  the future VRE station to Germanna Community College and the Spotsylvania Medical Regional Center.

There was a lot more discussion last night, so look for a story in tomorrow’s paper. I’ll try not to make it too redundant for you, wouldn’t want to punish you for being a faithful blog reader.

Also, stay tuned for the return of the quiz tomorrow. Hint: You might want to review the budget highlights.


  • Steve T.

    Mr. Waddy was right.

    There were a couple things that were interesting about this discussion. One of them was that the consultants kept referring back to Arlington- which should not, under any circumstances, be used as a model for Spotsy.

    Another was the assertion that 42,000 people were moving to Spotsylvania in the next 9 years. If you assume 2% population growth- and we haven’t had that in 4 years- we’d still only grow to about 150,000 people (about 28,000 growth). These UDAs may be too big.

    But there’s also the issue of the cost of transportation and services. When pressed for this, the consultants admitted that it would be up to the county to factor that into their equations- meaning the plans did not take that cost into account. Very disturbing, especially when 90% of the UDA would be in an area with no fire station nearby and it would need to build 10 schools to accommodate all the new students.

    Finally, there’s the issue of jobs. A lot of the UDAs rely on rezoning out of industrial and into residential or mixed use. Without any discernable office space of any scale included, where are these 42000 new people going to work?

    Lots of questions and not many good answers.

  • LarryG

    The UDAs are a mess – conceptually and I think the county planners know it.

    UDAs are SUPPOSED to be where people LIVE AND WORK in close proximity and you can do that in urbanized areas like Arlington and similar but in Spotsylvania you are talking about an exurban commuter-centric community and people are not likely to live and work in the UDAs unles they are deputies or teachers who work locally – assuming the UDAs provide truly affordable housing.

    The average person who works in NoVa and commutes to Spotsylvania is not looking for a UDA Home – which they can buy much closer to where they work in NoVa.

    What they are looking or is the conventional auto-dependent single family home in a residential-only subdivision.

    And if you look at the Route 17 UDA – the southern portion of it is basically 4du, standard 1/4 acre subdivisions while the ones around the hospital and Germanna are 8d density.

    If you separated these into stand alone UDA instead of one giant 2000 acre UDA – they’d NOT qualify as UDAs because basically the residential portion is not really mixed-use and only qualifies when you combine it with the other growth pods near the hospital and college.

    But the wheels literally came off the car when the UDA “experts” were saying that you could have 40,000 new residents and generate less traffic than the prior Massaponax Study indicated.

    They were all over the map on the transportation and totally confused the discussion by showing a development “concept”

    All they had to do is show the standard AASTO traffic generation data for the numbers of types of dwellings contemplated and it would likely yield out to 100,000 new trips a day in the Route 17 area and much of that traffic is going to use the I-95 interchange at Massaponax and there is no way to sugar coat that.

    You need a new interchange for that size and scale of development and instead we got the old rope a dope presentation and the BOS was rightly skeptical about it.

    The UDAs are designation ONLY. They do not actually REQUIRE that the growth only happen in those areas.

    In fact any developer is free to propose a UDA themselves as well as the county as they already did with their Vakos Courthouse Complex and in truth Mr. Garrisons development on Lafayette Blvd.

    The Spotsy Planners and Consultants could have named ONE UDA in the EXISTING Primary Settlement Area and in that designation simply say that they will entertain any/all 8du development proposals and the boundaries of the designated UDA are more than sufficient to accommodate the required growth thresholds.

    More than a few counties in Va including places like Henrico and Albemarle did exactly that – just drew the UDA around their existing designated growth areas (primary settlement areas) and they were DONE.

    The Consultants and Planners apparently wanted the County to draw NEW UDA that would, in effect became de-facto changes to the existing water and sewer master plan because that plan is not only drawn to boundaries but it is also drawn with respect to expected densities and if you change where the density was planned – you, in effect, change the water/sewer master plan and, in turn, possibly the CIP for that plan in the process.

    This aspect needs to be fully disclosed. How many available connections do we currently have available for water/sewer and were it it currently allocated and for what densities.?

    Don’t get the wrong impression.

    I VERY MUCH LIKE the UDA concept but we have to do it right and that means taking a hard and honest look at the infrastructure that will be needed and a realistic idea of how to pay for it and in what timeframe.

    I have to admit – I would have thought the existing residential area between Route 1 and Lafayette Blvd from 4-mile fork to the city limit would have been an IDEAL UDA because that area is ripe for re-development and you don’t have all the conflicts with existing industrial and commercial.

    Mr. Garrison actually put his own money into redevelopment along Lafayette Blvd and all he got for his efforts was a rash instead of support.

  • Steve T.

    Larry, glad to see I wasn’t the only one who saw those items.

  • D.J. McGuire

    From what I saw of the map, there was little to no commitment to encourage the office development that will be needed to ensure the commuters who do and will live here can work here.

    Maybe it’s just me, but at first blush, the non-residential “nodes” in the US 17 UDA were almost laughable.

  • D.J. McGuire

    Oh, and as for the “Arlington” example, the biggest problem with this is that the offices and jobs for these Arlington residents were just across the river in DC, just over the county line in eastern Fairfax and Alexandria, or in Arlington itself.

    That’s a far cry – literally – from Spotsy.

  • LarryG

    We’re an exurban, commuter-centric community. I know that’s a mouthful of a phrase but it’s important to understand that right now we simply don’t have the jobs that normally would be where we’d put the UDAs.

    Our UDAs will have to be developed explicitly with two very important differences.

    First, they will have to entice commuters to live there instead of looking for a single family residential subdivision.

    If they have enough of the desired amenities – they could.

    Second, we have to accept the reality that many of our residents commute to jobs in Quantico, For Belvoir, Fairfax, Arlington and NoVa and they will drive that distance every day solo in a car unless we provide along with the UDAs – alternatives – i.e. nearby commuter lots – served by Van and Bus.

    VRE is not going to do it. VRE is already at capacity at 20,000 riders a day and adding more capacity is going to take a long time and be very expensive especially when we know that all non-VRE riders in our area subsidize VRE riders to the tune of $20 per trip – a subsidy that bus and vanpool riders do not get.

    We need to see the commuter lots for the UDAs. They tell me whether or not the county planners and consultants are dealing with the realities (or not).

    Telling us that a “transit-ready boulevard” and a LOS E is how we get there is short… and I hate to say it but it makes it look like the planners/consultants are flying by the seat of their pants on this.

    It undermines confidence that they truly understand the challenges.

  • Steve T.

    The only change I’d have to Larry’s comments- again, I can’t believe we see most of this together- is that I think we can lure govt contracting and tech jobs here. But taking away industrial and commercial space, replacing it with residential, and not planning to build any other office space in the county is not the way to go. We have a big shortage of Class A office space here- we have a lot of substandard and older offices that a lot of NoVA businesses wouldn’t consider. That should have been in these proposals but was not.

  • Bill Haas

    There may be some chance that “we can lure govt contracting and tech jobs here.” The real question is how many of those jobs can be realistically lured? Enough to locally absorb 40,000 or even 20,000 new residents? I really doubt that. The commercial attraction for the “sucking hole” within the beltway is too much competition IMHO.

    I can remember when the BRAC activity first got underway. Everyone started talking about how that could “dry” up Crystal City. Poor old Charles E. Smith would go broke. Well, that certainly did not happen; the last time I was up there Crystal City and a whole lot of other real estate within the Beltway was going great guns.

    As Larry explained, we are an exurban, commuter-centric community and likely will remain that way for a very long time. All current and future planning should be taking that into consideration. The one thing that could possibly change that is if the Metrorail system were expanded this far south. Look at what is happening to the Dulles corridor.

  • Steve T.

    Bill, look at the office space available in Crystal City and that available here. We have the Cap One buildings (built not to be office space but to be a call center. No SCIF), Westpark, and Deep Run. We need more ready-to-go, Class A office space and we just cannot compete for those businesses, or jobs, without it. Build it and they will come.

  • LarryG

    I do not think Class A commercial is excluded from consideration in a UDA unless I don’t understand what it is and whether or not it is something you’d actually want inside of a UDA but I’m assuming it’s office buildings and I hate to say it but we seem to have a lot of empty buildings like that now days but at any rate.. nothing in the UDA law prevents any developer from making any proposal for any kind of development – UDA or not.

    That’s why is deceiving about the UDA process. It REQUIRES ALMOST NOTHING other than a designation of WHERE we would entertain (incentivize?) 8du an .8 FAR development but does not preclude it elsewhere either.

    The UDA is little more than the state mandate version of a Primary Settlement Area (that we already have).

    The UDA law would “like” us to “mix” residential with commercial rather than segregate them into auto-dependent nodes.

    Look at Salem Fields. It has a wide variety of housing ranging from patio homes to town house to single family with a neighborhood commercial pod/strip at the entrance.

    It pretty much meets the UDA requirement already at the 4du level (not sure at 8du) but as far as I know the UDA Law does not require some percentage mix between residential and commercial anyhow and while the focus is on population growth.. the law also implies “sufficient” for commercial growth also but that’s a total no-brainer for Spotsylvania anyhow right?

    When is the last time we sent a business packing? oops.. I think we just did that to a recylcer, eh?


  • LarryG

    There are already Defense contractors in Cap One right? I assume they handle classified info but let’s assume that we still need more Class A with SCIFs.

    The first question in my mind is why anyone would put their money in that large a SPEC venture in the first place and what would the county need to do to encourage/incentivize it?

    No taxes on it until they get tenants? Free water/sewer?

    I’m going to have to be convinced that Spotsylvania is doing the wrong things that need to be fixed FIRST.

    But again – no UDA precludes ANY proposal from any developer for any type of project.

    They are not impediments to brining more Class A commercial to the county. If anything, the county would probably go out of it’s way to provide them with the venue they wanted.

    So I’m not getting the thrust of what DJ and ST are saying.

    I just don’t see any impediments here. Any developer could step right up and propose for a UDA to be 100% class A and there is nothing in the law to prevent that.

  • Bill Haas

    Steve, the question is; why is there not more class A space down here? Well, IMHO it is because the developers locally have seen NO market for it. Closest we have come to a big DOD contractor in these parts is in Stafford, when Northrup-Grumman was looking for space for it’s headquarters. The reason they were even considering Stafford was the proximity to Quantico. A.P. Hill nor Dahlgren are that big a magnet for contractors. In fact, not even Quantico can really compete with the Beltway.

    I agree with Larry on the UDA issue. Further, I think the BOS and county planning folks have made a mountaln out of a mole hill on this issue.

    It is all about market and the market here for large chunks of DOD work is small potatoes.

  • Steve T.

    As someone who has brought dozens of tech firms and contractors here, they would look because of less cost compared to Tysons… especially in this economy. That and BRAC has brought more work to the 3 bases that surround us, and we’re just outside the 50 mile blast zone from DC.

    But in this economy you can’t get a loan to build unless you’re basically pre-leased. That’s the hard part. You could absolutely put office space in a UDA- and that’s what I’d like to have seen them do.

    There’s no particular reason for us to just be a bedroom community. We could be more with some vision.

  • Bill Haas

    Steve: “As someone who has brought dozens of tech firms and contractors here” are you kidding me? Please tell me ten of these tech firms you have “brought” here and have opened facilities here.

    As a former employee in Defense and the Defense contractor community; the most important factor involved in opening new facilities is ACCESS to ones customer. The customer demands it and it must be convenient. In case you are unaware, federal contractors rents are paid in their overhead charged to their customer.

    P.S. The scare about “blast zones” went out of vogue a long time ago.