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State plan for growth worrisome to Warren

High-density development not what county needs, say several concerned officials

By Ben Orcutt - borcutt@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Several local officials have added their voices to those expressing misgivings about designating urban development areas in the community.

Glenn L. White, the vice chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors who represents the North River District, said he fears such a move will accelerate high-density growth and harm the local quality of life.

"The basic problem is that high-density development feeds on itself in the sense that if you rezone into high density a parcel of ground, it almost doesn't matter where that is, it's going to be followed by lots and lots and lots of other people who want to have their pieces of property rezoned similarly," White said.

White's comments come on the heels of former Front Royal mayor Stanley W. "Stan" Brooks Jr.'s remarks to the Front Royal Town Council on Monday that the state-mandated designation of urban development areas "could be a recipe for disaster" for the county and town.

Supervisors Chairman Archie A. Fox has said that he is "outraged" by the state mandate and Mayor Timothy W. Darr said the council has decided to send a letter to Del. Clifford L. "Clay" Athey Jr., R-Front Royal, and Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, seeking clarification of the mandate and an extension of the July 1 deadline for complying.

Every city and county that experienced a 15 percent or greater population growth between 1990 and 2000 must select urban development areas.

The urban development areas are meant to set aside land suitable for high-density development. The land must be close to major transportation networks and have access to public services such as water and sewer. The designated area also must allow for a minimum of four dwellings per acre.

The county must select 674 acres for future residential growth, as well as 43.6 acres for commercial use. Planning staff from the town and the county have been cooperating on the project.

White said he is familiar with high-density development, having served six two-year terms on the Fairfax City Council in the 1970s and 1980s.

"The difficulty is that once you rezone a piece of property for higher-density development, the courts, at least in most cases, go along with the applicants," White said. "That is to say applicants wind up saying essentially to the courts, 'Look, you gave this high-density development to Joe Blow here for his property, how can you justify not giving it to me?' And as a result, you wind up with kind of a cascading bunch of properties that wind up with high-density development."

Both the town and the county have comprehensive plans for development, and White said the state-mandated development areas usurp a local responsibility.
White also warned of possible criminal activity.

"Things frequently get out of hand," he said. "In places like Loudoun County ... people went to jail. It just got so hectic and so profitable to the developers that secret deals were made all over the place, and I'm not accusing anybody of anything at this point in time. That's not my point. My point is that it inherently and almost automatically opens the door to approaches to this kind of a problem that I don't want to see happen here in our county."

Councilman Thomas H. Sayre also opposes the development areas, known as UDAs.
"UDAs only apply to cities and counties, not towns," Sayre said. "Therefore, the town of Front Royal does not have to be ruined because of the prospect of UDAs' massive high-density housing. This isn't managing the growth. This is high-octane massive, explosive residential growth. Front Royal will end as we know it, gone forever."

Councilman N. Shae Parker said he is wary of designating development areas as well.
"I'm not thrilled about it," Parker said. "That's sort of the idea behind a comp plan is to plan for future development. I guess I understand the premise behind it, but I don't like the deadline. I know this is more of a county issue, but it does greatly affect the town. Quite honestly, I think the two entities could find a good plan for the urban development areas, but I think the time constraints are too restrictive to do it in a fair and balanced way for the community to come out with the best results."

Councilman Thomas E. Conkey pointed out that just because there is an urban development area designation does not mean that rezoning approval is automatic.
"I guess the one thing we need to make sure people know is that designating an area as a UDA isn't the absolute determination that it will be high-density usage," Conkey said. "The comprehensive plan is a guide, but nothing more than that, and this is the same kind of thing."

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