EFO Capital Management Inc. submitted a request to Culpeper County to extend consideration of their rezoning application for 9 more months which means it will likely be June 2012 before the next public hearing on this proposal. To refresh your memory, in late 2010, the developer submitted its initial rezoning request to Culpeper County for the lands at the Southwest corner of Rt. 211 and Rt. 229, ten miles west of Warrenton, across from the approved Centex development, Clevenger’s Corner. The 124-acre parcel in question is currently zoned for R-1 (approximately 1-acre residential lots) with 12 acres of commercial. The requested rezoning would allow for more than double that amount of housing, calling for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) with 275 homes and a row of commercial spaces along 229.
This project is yet another example of the unsustainable real estate speculation that has become too common in Northern Virginia and Culpeper.
Some, including the developer, have cited the County’s comprehensive plan in support of this project. However, upon closer inspection, the County’s comprehensive plan would only support 142 residential units at this site due to existing densities of surrounding properties and available water resources. Furthermore, the County already has an abundance of prior approved lots. Secondly, the developer has not made a serious proffer proposal that would cover the costs of this development.
There are also issues that arise from the very concept of a village center in an area that is sure to create major transportation impacts locally and in surrounding counties. A decent layout for the proposed community does not make up for the negative transportation implications, lack of groundwater resources and fiscal impacts to the County and its citizens (more details below).
Supply and Demand
The county is faced with an oversupply of housing that will hold housing values down for many years to come. Adjacent to the proposed site is Clevengers Village with 775 units approved in 2006 and dirt has yet to be turned. Those 775 units are a part of the larger 7000+ approved and unbuilt units that exist throughout Culpeper County. Approving more at this time, without allowing the market to catch up, will only make matters worse. Especially if one were to factor in the additional approved but unbuilt lots in the region and in the Town of Culpeper. Culpeper County foreclosure rates are already some 5 times higher than the state average.
Inadequate Proffers Mean the County and Its Citizens Would Cover the Costs of Services:
Culpeper does not have a proffer policy. The County’s rationale is that proffer policies act as a ceiling for what the County might receive. Unfortunately, that logic has failed to produce realistic proffers for any project above what most of our surrounding counties have listed as the total cost in their proffer policies. Currently, the application contains cash proffers at $3,000 dollars per unit, a price that has been identified by county staff as inadequate. The applicants don’t come close to covering the school costs to the county, much less costs for fire and rescue, police, parks and recreation, and other burdens increased residential zoning places on county services.
By comparison, Fauquier County estimates the cost of a single family home to be $28,613 (nearly 75 percent of which is attributed to schools). Condos and townhomes are estimated at $20,597 per unit and apartments at $13,158 per unit. Transportation costs are not included in these estimates.
The recently adopted transportation impact fee in Culpeper may offset some of the cost for transportation impacts. But at less than $565 for residential or commercial development for every 10 vehicle trips per day, the fee along with the proposed proffers would fail to produce what is expected to be the true cost of this development.
Developers have long pointed to proffers and suggested they should be lower and pitch their projects as economic development. They do not want to have to bear the costs their development places upon the community. But, in a bad economy, the citizens can ill-afford decisions that place even greater financial stress upon the County budget and existing Culpeper households. A 2002 cost of community services report for Culpeper estimated that every dollar generated by residential housing costs the county $1.22.
Commercial development is one way to offset this cost. But in this case, the commercial component does not appear to be in excess of the 12 acres of zoned commercial that already exist at the site.
Water and Sewer
The development would utilize the recently constructed wastewater facility located in the Clevengers Village property. Water for the development would be supplied by groundwater wells onsite. There is a stated concern by county staff that supply would be less than what is called for by this development. It is risky to have a large residential and commercial development reliant on groundwater with no public backup system in place.
There are also issues related to the entrance design that places entrances too close to the 229/211 intersection that could cause problems and increase the likelihood of VDOT’s moving forward with plans to turn Route 211 into a 6-lane thoroughfare west of Warrenton- a project estimated to cost 92 million dollars. As well, some roads within the development are intended to be turned over to the future Home Owners Association (HOA), not VDOT. Private roads have a long history of becoming future burdens to the localities in which they reside.
The proposal was originally expected to go to the Planning Commission in February, but the developer has been using this time to work out some issues with VDOT. However, in the past 10 months, there have been no significant changes to the original site plan or its proposed density.
While the applicant has the right to submit for a rezoning, this proposal does not to benefit the County’s residents. Granting this proposal to dramatically increase the residential development allowed at Clevenger’s, in this market, with all of the known transportation impacts, water resource concerns, and in light of not one house being constructed in the already approved Clevengers Village (775 units), is premature and would come at great cost to existing Culpeper residents. Further, this development places density in the wrong location. This development would be more appropriate for the Town of Culpeper – where it would better achieve the goals of the County’s Comprehensive Plan.
In addition, the acceptance of proffers that are so obviously inadequate would amount to a vote for a tax increase to subsidize this development. Citizens of Culpeper have already been exposed to the costs of speculative residential development. It is unfair to ask them to cover more, especially when no one can demonstrate a need for more residentially zoned land.