Big Growth in Greene

When Brian Higgins joined PEC’s staff as our first full-time field officer for Culpeper and Greene, this summer, he had to hit the ground running in Greene County. For one thing, the county is considering a rezoning for a development of nearly 1,200 units—a single project that could increase the county’s population by 20%.

For another, the county is moving forward on a $35 million water supply plan to accommodate new growth on a scale that might not be realistic—or a good idea. Both of these issues pose the questions: What kind of growth do the people of Greene County want to see? And who is going to pay for it?

Creekside—More Growth and More Traffic on Rt. 29

Creekside, a 400-acre site in the southeastern corner of Greene County was rezoned for 800 single-family homes in 2000. Now the developer wants to change the plan to 600 single-family homes plus 580 townhomes—an almost 50% increase in density. Without significant proffers to offset the costs of roads, schools and other infrastructure, this oversized development will worsen traffic and strain local taxpayers—and meaningful proffers are not part of the plan.

The Creekside development is located just east of the stripped property with the looming water tower visible from Rt. 29, and is owned by the same developer who holds a long-term lease on the water tower property, a planned commercial and residential development called Rapidan Center.

Traffic from Creekside would use Preddy Creek Road (Rt. 670) on its way to either Rt. 29 or Rt. 33. Using VDOT’s estimate that, on average, every new home generates 10 vehicle trips per day, the expanded version of Creekside would increase traffic by 11,800 trips per day—a heavy and potentially dangerous load to add to this winding, two-lane road with no sidewalks, crosswalks, or shoulders.

On Rt. 29, the extra traffic would increase congestion on a stretch of highway that is already a chokepoint. The plan for Creekside would entail another traffic signal spaced less than half a mile from the existing one. With the additional stoplight, VDOT would require the speed limit on this stretch of Rt. 29 to be reduced from 55 to 45 mph. Adding the stoplight and reducing the speed limit contradicts the Greene County Comprehensive Plan as well as state plans for the Route 29 corridor, all of which call for minimizing new signals and using access management to maintain an even flow of traffic (see p. 3).

According to the county’s Comprehensive Plan, high-density developments should be designed so that residents can safely bike or walk to commercial areas. But the Creekside townhomes would be located approximately a mile and a half from the as-yet-unbuilt commercial area fronting Rt. 29. Most people won’t choose to walk or bike that distance. This development would give them few options except to drive nearly everywhere they go.

So, how are the developers planning to mitigate these impacts?

They are actually trying to dodge Greene County’s suggested proffers, which are already strkingly low—only $5,771 per unit compared to $17,500 in Albemarle, $21,818 in Culpeper, and $28,972 in Orange. These low proffers leave the remaining burden of paying for schools, roads, and services to local taxpayers. But the Creekside developers (Fried Companies) are offering only about $1,300 per unit—which they justify by counting the cost of a new access road through the Rapidan Center. Essentially, the developers are asking to be let off the hook, so long as they build a road that is needed to reach their own development! Making matters worse, they propose to not pay a cent of proffers for this rezoning until they have built their 801st unit.

Greene County will be considering the Creekside rezoning this fall, starting with a Planning Commission meeting on October 19, and PEC is urging that it be denied. Making Creekside larger would only intensify its impacts, and set a precedent that developers in Greene aren’t responsible for smart, well-designed projects that fit the Comprehensive Plan and pay their fair share.

Urge the Planning Commission to Vote ‘No’ on Creekside >>

Water Plan—a $35 Million Bet on Booming Growth

In July, Greene County and the Town of Stanardsville approved a water supply plan that calls for a new $35 million reservoir on White’s Run, to be filled with water pumped from the Rapidan River. Where are they planning to get $35 million?

From new homes.

The county was complying with a mandate from the state that they produce a plan for their future water supply by this November. Greene County found that it is approaching the limits of its current supply and will need to expand to accommodate future growth. But the new plan assumes a pace of growth that may not be realistic—even if the community in Greene wants to rush toward a more suburban future.

The plan relies on tap fees of $10,000 per house to pay for the new infrastructure. The funding model assumes that, for the next eighteen years, an average of 200 houses per year will pay the tap fee—mostly new construction, plus any households that decide to switch from wells. But during the first seven months of 2011, Greene County received only 40 tap fees, which puts it on track for about 70 this year. If the County commits to constructing the reservoir, the most likely way for it to make up a funding shortfall would be to raise water rates.

So what’s the alternative? PEC believes that the county should implement a comprehensive water conservation plan right way. The size—and cost—of the proposed White Run Reservoir is based on a forecast of rapid population growth and an associated increase in water use. However, a recent report from the Water Research Foundation indicates that water use is declining across the country, forcing utilities to raise rates in order to pay for system maintenance. The report concludes: “It is clear [that] old rules of thumb, such as assuming households use 100 gpd [gallons per day] per person are no longer sufficient.” Greene County’s consultant was relying on that outdated standard.

Planning a water supply based on the highest use day in 2050, with full build-out of the County’s Growth Area, using a high estimate of usage per person per day, essentially guarantees the County will build, and pay for, a system that is larger than they need. Mr. Higgins says, “It’s like buying 12-passenger van instead of a 4-person sedan because there might be one day in the next forty years that you would fill it up with people. Conservation first, then right-size the reservoir.”