The Opal Steering Committee has been meeting for about a year and has developed a plan that is ready for public review. Although PEC supports aspects of the plan, we also have several concerns about what the plan proposes. We support the proposed layout of the land use plan which includes a central core that straddles Route 29 north of the Opal Rd/Route 17 intersection. We also feel that the right in/right out intersections on Rt. 29, the parallel backage roads, and the planned bridge over Rt. 29 make up a well thought-out and cost effective solution to the challenging transportation problem in Opal. Our three primary concerns are the continued expansion of the Opal Service District, the proposal for new zoning districts that eliminate special exception and permiting requirements, and the lack of a plan for the provision of adequate water service in the district.
Proposed Expansion of the Service District
In 1987 Opal Service District was only a thin strip of property along Route 29, by 1991 it had nearly doubled in size, by 2010 it had tripled, and in 2012 two more large properties to the north and south were added. These expansions have not had any noticeable increase in the build out of the Service District. In fact we believe it has made the provision of services and a functional transportation network increasingly difficult.
The Opal Service District currently contains 853 acres. The draft plan would expand it by an additional 100 acres to incorporate the property where the proposed well is located. We have several concerns about the environmental and historic impacts of adding this additional land to the service district. At the Planning Commission’s initial meeting, there was also discussion about a second possible expansion that would add approximately 70 additional acres. It is not fiscally responsible of the County to continue to expand this service district without a thought out plan for provision of public water and without a need for additional land in the Service District.
Provision of Services within the Service District
The draft plan for the provision of public water in the service district is woefully inadequate. The County should incentivize growth in the service districts by planning for and providing infrastructure within. However, we realize that the inability of the County to adequately provide these public services is a direct result of there simply being too much vacant land that needs supporting infrastructure in the service districts.
The planned well will only provide 380,400 gpd and the residential and commercial at build out is expected to use about 372,900 gpd. This leaves only 7,500 gpd for industrial uses which is planned to make up nearly half of the planned service district acreage. The expected water usage for the industrial sites is not accounted for in the plan because the possible uses vary so much that WSA cannot provide any type of estimate. If all the industrial were filled with dry storage warehouses then water will not be a major problem, however, a three bay car wash with a recycled water system would use the entire 7,500 gpd single handedly. A major water user like a data center or bottling plant could use well over 100,000 gpd taking available water from the core commercial build out.
In the County Capital Improvement Plan, the County has planned to commit 6.5 million in Fiscal Years 2015, 2016, and 2017 for providing Opal Service District with public water. According to estimates from the Preliminary Engineering Report for Opal Water System Improvements completed in 2008, Phase 1A will cost around $2,632,840 and Phase 1B will cost around $2,305,930 for a total of $4,938,770 million. With inflation, planning, and engineering work it is very unlikely that much more than Phase 1A and 1B would get completed with this funding. Phase 1A and 1B only brings water down Opal Road, north on Rt. 29 to tie in the Green Meadows subdivision, and then back down Clarkes Road and North on Rt. 17 to complete the loop. Although this would provide water to the core commercial development area thus incentivizing growth from the center out, there is nothing preventing industrial zoned land on the outskirts or proposals like the “Opal Gateway” expansion from linking up to the system first and using the limited capacity.
‘Standalone’ Nature of Plan
The draft plan identifies the Opal Service District Plan as a standalone plan not subject to Section 1 (Introduction), Section 5 (Utility Element), and Section 6 (Transportation) of the Bealeton, Opal, and Remington Service District Plan. Further the plan the plan calls for creation of a“one stop shop” zoning districts for regulation of signs, landscaping, parking etc. that relies solely on development standards rather than any Special Permit or Special Exception requirements. PEC has concerns about this proposed language.
The Opal Service District must be incorporated into the larger transportation and utility plans for this area of the County. It is a major part of the Rt. 29/Rt. 17 transportation network and regularly impacts residents who drive through that intersection. Opal receives sewer services from the Remington Wastewater Treatment Plant which also provides capacity to Bealeton and Remington. To not consider the transportation and utility impacts the development of Opal might have on the broader planning scope is shortsighted and is simply bad planning.
The proposed “one stop shop” zoning districts would eliminate requirements for special exceptions and would reduce County standards on parking, landscaping, signage, etc. in Opal Service District. PEC has concerns about these new zoning district proposals because it would reduce the opportunities available for public input about potentially highly impactful uses adjacent to residential development. The standards adopted for the zoning districts will very likely be more lenient than the standards set forward in the other parts of the zoning ordinance and may not support the attractive and thriving business environment described in the rest of the plan.
Parts of Proposed Road Network Encourage Further Expansion of Service District
Overall PEC is supportive of the secondary road network the Opal Service District Steering Committee has proposed. Creating a road network here that supports efficient movement, business accessibility, safety, and is cost effective was a challenging task. The backage roads, right in/right out access, and bridge crossing proposed provide a good solid solution.
Our concerns are with the proposed roads that cross out of the service district and would likely encourage further expansions to the Service District in the future. In fact, during the first Planning Commission meeting about this draft plan one of these roads has already initiated discussions about further expansion; the road that connects Opal Road to the southern most property in the service district.