A Stafford County developer can move forward with three applications for higher-density “cluster subdivisions” that would add 95 homes to Hartwood, according to a recent court order.

Circuit Judge Joseph Ellis last week signed off on a temporary injunction to partially lift a 7-month-old ordinance that effectively killed numerous proposed cluster subdivisions with a total of more than 300 homes. The order applies to only about 320 acres of land owned by developer Robert Gollohan, who sued the county a month after the Board of Supervisors voted March 20 to pass the ordinance over the objections of homebuilders.

The injunction will be in effect until a trial Jan. 24–25 to determine the fate of the ordinance, which cut in half the amount of property countywide on which cluster subdivisions can be built.

Attorney Clark Leming, who represents Gollohan, said in an interview that the developer resubmitted his applications now that the ordinance no longer prevents them. “We feel confident that the county will comply with the court’s order and process Mr. Gollohan’s applications in the due course of business,” Leming said.

Stafford Circuit Judge Victoria Willis wrote a letter May 23 in support of the developer’s request for a temporary injunction, but never signed an order and eventually recused herself from the case in the wake of incendiary public comments from Supervisor Wendy Maurer.

Maurer claimed that she received a call from a judge, presumably Willis, who threatened to sue the county if it did not move forward with a new circuit courthouse. Willis maintained her impartiality, but agreed to step down from the case at the request of Stafford’s outside counsel.

Judge Ellis, who usually hears cases in Spotsylvania County Circuit Court, cited Willis’ letter in his recent order. Willis wrote that it is unclear whether Stafford adhered to a state law requiring 40 percent of a locality’s undeveloped property to be eligible for cluster subdivisions.

The county’s cluster subdivision ordinance decreases the minimum housing lot from 3 acres to 1.5 acres on certain agriculturally zoned land if developers preserve 50 percent of the property. Critics say it lets developers build more homes because the so-called “open space” includes power-line easements and other property unsuited for development.

Another complaint is that cluster subdivisions often pop up in rural parts of the county with inadequate infrastructure.

Gollohan’s applications for cluster subdivisions would add 11 homes at the intersection of Poplar and Truslow roads; 35 homes at the corner of Poplar and Tacketts Mill roads; and 49 homes on Holly Corner Road.

A county spokesman wrote in an email that Stafford’s outside counsel will file court papers by Friday explaining Stafford’s objections to the recent order.

During a court hearing five month ago, Leming said supervisors passed the ordinance with the understanding that about 19,000 acres of land could be turned into cluster subdivisions. But that figure kept changing, he said, raising questions about the ordinance’s legality.

Attorney Patrick Taves, who represents Stafford, acknowledged at the time that the initial figure was incorrect because it counted some properties more than once, among other reasons. Regardless, he said, the revised calculations met state law.

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Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402

jbranscome@freelancestar.com

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