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Proffers do not guarantee rezoning approval

October 18, 2004 1:08 am


A Silver Cos. proposal for Sherwood Farm on State Route 3 is one of several large-scale rezonings being considered in Stafford.


• Aerial photos: Click here to view Development Watch 2.0, an overview of some major projects

As early as next summer, luxury homes could start sprouting at Whitehall in Spotsylvania County.

The proposed development, on 1,563 acres north of Todds Tavern, would have 116 lots ranging in size from 2 to 9 acres. That's what the developers, Diane Cox Basheer Properties of Vienna and T&E Associates of Fairfax, are allowed to build by right under the county's zoning ordinance.

But that's not what was originally planned. And how the project has evolved in the two years since it was proposed has been an eye-opener for the developers, county officials, neighbors and preservationists.

The developers sought to rezone the land to build approximately 500 high-end homes and up to 40,000 square feet of businesses. The land, zoned rural and agricultural, fronts on Herndon and Brock roads and Jackson Trail East in the Livingston District.

The companies needed the rezoning for higher density on the site, and sweetened the pot with a $5 million cash proffer.

The growth game
Part 1:
• High-density developments run into snags. Is there a plan for smart growth?
Part 2:
• Proffers do not guarantee rezoning approval
• Stafford developers propose projects, but hesitate to file for rezonings because supervisors have not reached consensus on growth
Part 3:
• New tool for managing growth draws interest, but can area taxpayers afford it?

Another carrot dangled before county officials was the offer to donate 181 acres to the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust after the first house was built. In addition, the trust was to receive $100 per house to be used for acquiring historically significant land in Spotsylvania.

Preservationists were excited about the prospect of acquiring land adjacent to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

But no amount of incentives could quell concerns of neighbors who turned out in force at two meetings earlier this year--one in March and one in May--warning of the impact the project would have on schools and on traffic along Herndon Road. At the May meeting, Livingston District Supervisor T.C. Waddy--who had reservations about the project from the beginning--came out against it.

Waddy, who couldn't be reached last week, told a reporter a few weeks after the May meeting: "I just told them we can't keep on approving these developments, because you have to provide services for them. I'm not going to put that burden on the taxpayers.

"We need more commercial. We've got to pick up on the commercial and slow down on this residential growth."

Realizing that it had lost Waddy's crucial vote, the developer went to Plan B.

Dory Winkelman, senior vice president of Diane Cox Basheer Properties, said Friday there was little choice.

"Given the sentiments expressed, we realized there was an exceedingly steep hill," Winkelman said. "We really don't like to be antagonistic to any of the communities where we are, so we worked through the summer to come up with a [new] plan." The rezoning request was withdrawn.

"Nobody was questioning the quality of their project and design. It had a lot of great attributes," said Chancellor District Supervisor Hap Connors. "The number of houses and traffic was a big hurdle."

Connors suggested the developers revamp the plan by lowering the density and bumping up the commercial area.

"On that much land, they could do some additional clustering. They could develop by right, make money and do the right thing [preservation] at the same time," Connors said.

Diane Cox Basheer Properties submitted a preliminary plan for by-right development on Oct. 4, according to Spotsylvania Planning Manager Wanda Parrish.

Most of the lots would be clustered on the northern end of the tract, where sewer connections are available. Four large lots would abut Jackson Trail East.

Following a comment and review period, the plan will go back to the Planning Commission, then a final site plan would have to be prepared and the lots recorded before building could begin.

"Certainly next year they could be under construction, maybe summertime," Parrish said.

Russ Smith, superintendent of the military park, said last week that the by-right plan provides no buffer to shield Jackson Trail East from the subdivision.

"Now, it appears that the project would be spread out over the whole property," he said. The Park Service was an ardent supporter of the original plan, saying the preservation benefits outweighed traffic concerns.

Central Virginia Battlefields Trust President Mike Stevens said he had not heard about the new proposal.

At Whitehall, he said, "The most important land is contiguous with Jackson Trail East. It's a very important landmark to Jackson Flank." On May 2, 1862, Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson led 26,000 men on a 12-mile march to attack the Union army's flank, catching them by surprise while they prepared dinner.

Stevens hopes that some of the Whitehall land can still be preserved. In September, Tricord Inc. agreed to sell 140 acres connected with the Chancellorsville battlefield along State Route 3 to the Washington-based Civil War Preservation Trust for $3 million.

"You win some and you lose some," Stevens said. "One thing about our contacts with Whitehall--they've been nothing but positive. I do think they were willing to try to work something out."

Winkelman said that's still possible, and he commended the Park Service and battlefield trust for their efforts.

"I would say, yes I told Mr. Smith that at some point we would all be sitting down again."

To reach RUSTY DENNEN: 540/374-5431

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