The former Aquia Town Center could be cleaned up and redeveloped under a new incentives plan being crafted by Stafford County officials.
The 200,000-square-foot shopping center off U.S. 1 just outside the gates of the Aquia Harbour community was razed in 2007, with plans to create a sprawling mixed-use development that included shops and restaurants anchored by an upscale grocery store.
That hasn’t happened, despite a 2015 plan that would have provided at least $6.25 million in tax rebates to the developer, Maryland-based Mosaic Reality Partners. The project appeared to gain momentum in 2016 when Harris–Teeter announced plans to build a store to anchor the development, but the supermarket pulled out after the developer’s request to more than double the incentive proved unsuccessful.
The site has remained undeveloped, with the exception of a lone Rite Aid drug store. Piles of debris, unused concrete drain pipes, temporary fencing and tall grass mar the landscape, drawing complaints from nearby residents.
Now county officials and Mosaic are working on a new agreement that pushes the developer to clean up the area this year as it continues the hunt for a suitable anchor store and the retail shops to go with it.
Stafford supervisors took action in early April to amend the county’s agreement with Mosaic to give the firm another opportunity to develop the location.
The amended plan calls for the county to return to the developer 75 percent of the tax revenue generated on the site up to $3.5 million, then drops the refund to 50 percent until the $6.25 million is reached. If 15,000 square feet of commercial space isn’t built out and occupied within three years after the agreement is reached, the deal will be terminated.
The new proposal also eliminates a clause from the original agreement that raised the incentives by 5 percent a year to balance loan interest Mosaic would pay.
“The previous agreement had no time limit, and the escalator kept raising the incentive for nothing being done on the property,” said John Holden, Stafford’s director of economic development and tourism. “The new agreement is better because it defines the incentive, the project and the conditions that must be met to reimburse Mosaic’s future tax revenues.
“It also terminates the agreement if they do not build at least a 15,000-square-foot occupied building within three years. The previous agreement had none of that.”
Supervisors had considered rescinding the agreement altogether, but decided a revised deal with a deadline was better.
“I believe they are actively seeking another anchor store to come in,” said Supervisor Jack Cavalier. “We’ll be giving Mosaic 36 months to come up with a development and it needs to be accomplished within those three years.
“They’re going to need somebody signing on the bottom line that they’re moving in. That’s a bare minimum. They can’t just build a building and allow it to sit.”
Mosaic Principal Isaac Pretter said the company is actively searching for an interested anchor store to get the ball rolling.
“We’re disappointed, just like the community, that we haven’t been able to deliver,” said Pretter. “We’d love to see it be developed and we’re focused on getting the area developed.”
Andrew Spence, the county’s community engagement program director, said he expects the amended agreement will be sent to Mosaic by late May or early June, after supervisors review its details.