During the economic boom of the late 1990s, Stafford County envisioned Celebrate Virginia North as an employment hub with restaurants and up to five golf courses.

As many as 15,000 employees would drive to work there each day and some might live in the villas proposed for the 1,200-acre property off U.S. 17.

Nearly two decades—and two recessions—later, the development has grown significantly, just not how the county originally anticipated.

An apartment complex and more than 600 age-restricted homes line the four-lane, divided Celebrate Virginia Parkway. The development includes a Giant grocery store, a Lowe’s, a pizza delivery place and a few fast-food restaurants.

And the 3-mile parkway ends at the shuttered Cannon Ridge golf course, where wooden boards cover the clubhouse windows and weeds sprout around the parking lot. A soybean farm can be seen in the distance.

With little demand for offices and commercial space, Fredericksburg-based Silver Cos. recently came up with another proposal that it says will bring new life—and tax revenue—to the development’s vacant land. It’s called The Villages of Greenbank—a 288-acre, 1,177-home community for people 55 and older that would be built on the closed golf course and a soybean farm.

That plan would double the amount of age-restricted homes at Celebrate Virginia North. The existing Celebrate by Del Webb, which supervisors approved in 2003, will have about 1,100 age-restricted homes when it is finished. About 645 of those homes have been built, and the county has issued building permits for another 200.

The Stafford Board of Supervisors voted this week to refer Silver’s proposal to the Planning Commission for a recommendation. Supervisors Jack Cavalier and Wendy Maurer voted no, with Cavalier saying that “none of this makes any sense to me.”

“To basically put more housing in there, to do away with the recreational aspect and preclude further commercial developments…there’s nothing good about this,” he said.

Cannon Ridge closed late last year after losing millions of dollars, according to a Silver Cos. report. Silver hopes to transform a section of the former golf course into a public park focused on the site’s Civil War and Native American history.

Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer said he also has reservations about the project, but that their vote simply referred the matter to the Planning Commission. He noted that the development is age-restricted, adding: “So it’s not exactly going to flood our schools.”

Supervisors will take a final vote later on the actual proposal, which would amend a zoning designation created just for Celebrate Virginia North that allows 30 percent of the property to be developed as retirement homes. Silver needs the county to increase that threshold to 45 percent.

A county spokesman said Silver could add an estimated 300 homes to the property under current guidelines.

Chris Hornung, Silver’s vice president of planning and engineering, told The Free Lance–Star that the county would net about $4 million per year in tax revenue from the project because it requires no additional schools or teachers. Celebrate Virginia’s infrastructure is more than enough to handle the increased traffic, he said, adding that nearby improvements to Interstate 95 will also be finished when the project, if approved, begins to take shape in a few years.

Silver plans to sell the property to a homebuilder, which would develop a mix of detached and attached homes and duplexes. The project would include biking and walking trails connecting it to Celebrate by Del Webb.

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

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