WHAT'S probably most remarkable about the 90-acre property known as the Hylton Tract, which extends north from State Route 3 in Fredericksburg along the east side of Interstate 95, is that it has remained undeveloped since the interstate opened 55 years ago. Real estate doesn't get much more prime than that.

Of course, the Hylton family knows how valuable the property is, and has chosen to hold onto it, waiting for the right time and opportunity to come along. Maybe that time has finally come.

The site is in the running for construction of what the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is billing as the country's largest VA clinic. The rezoning of the tract from R2 Residential and Commercial Highway to Planned Development–Medical Center takes care of one hurdle. Attracting a major data center to the site has also been considered and appears permissible under the rezoning.



Either would provide significant tax revenue. While a data center would use a lot of electrical power, the VA clinic would generate a lot more jobs and a lot more traffic. City officials have also said they'd like to build Fredericksburg's third fire station on part of the tract, hoping for a three-acre proffer from the owner.

For years, Fredericksburg officials have discussed development options with property owner Hylton Venture LLC, whose parent company is Hylton Group in Dale City. The development would not only add jobs and tax revenues, it would necessitate the long-desired extension of Gateway Boulevard across Route 3 northward into the property.

However, the city's efforts to obtain funding for the road, whether from the state or federal government, have come up empty.

Now, City Council has approved a non-binding letter of intent that proposes to negotiate a deal with Hylton Venture over the next 120 days. 

The plan calls for the company to build the extension of Gateway Boulevard. To pay for it, the city would use an innovative method called tax increment financing, which allows it to use both the tax revenues the property already generates and future revenues generated by and because of the developed property. Proposals have included a residential component as part of a mixed-use arrangement.

With its 6-1 vote last month in favor of the TIF plan, the council is expressing high confidence in realizing those potential revenues. Council member Jason Graham, who cast the dissenting vote, said he believes current economic volatility is a concern when the city is counting on "potential revenues."  

The Gateway Boulevard extension is included in the city's Comprehensive Plan and seen as a key component of its overall roadway infrastructure. Existing Gateway Boulevard is the four-lane road that leads into Gateway Village south of Route 3 and continues to the Idlewild subdivision.

The new road would provide a much-needed connection between Route 3 and Cowan Boulevard, but the new wave of Route 3 traffic that would be spawned by a VA clinic's hundreds of employees and thousands of patients requires serious consideration. Moreover, the $16.5 million price tag for the new road doesn't include necessary improvements at either end, to Route 3 or Cowan Boulevard.

A new Interstate 95 exit dedicated to the clinic, which has been proposed, would help. 

The Fredericksburg site is not without competition. The VA's search area includes the central portions of Stafford and Spotsylvania counties on either side of I–95. Developers and landowners in both counties have offered up viable sites for the clinic and either locality would welcome the jobs and tax benefits it would bring. The jobs—300 initially, rising to 550 later—would be well-received anywhere in the area, as localities strive to keep workers closer to home.

Wherever the VA decides to put its new clinic will mean a big win for the Fredericksburg area. If it chooses somewhere other than the Hylton Tract, the city has positioned itself well to attract an alternative operation.

opinion@freelancestar.com

Twitter: @FLS_Opinion

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