By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- A developer's bid to bring 604 acres into town limits could hurt Warren County if development on the land goes unchecked, county leaders said this week.
However, officials advised the Board of Supervisors that any development on the county land adjacent to Front Royal would not happen overnight, saying it could take years before the town rezones the property should the state approve the annexation proposal. Even before such annexation occurs, the board can relay its concerns over future growth to the developer and an agreement between the county, town and property holder could reflect those issues, officials said.
At a joint work session of the supervisors and the planning commission, members discussed the annexation request submitted in September by the Front Royal Limited Partnership, which seeks to add 604 acres of county land to the town.
The developer has cited that the county would continue to benefit from any real estate tax generated on the property. If annexed, the property would receive water and sewer service from the town. Annexation also would help speed up the construction of Leach Run Parkway, the property owners have said.
The matter came up after the panels discussed the update to the county's comprehensive plan, including the ideal speed of residential growth in the locality and the ratio of housing to commercial development. Planning officials say the county is not close to reaching the peak recommended growth rate, given the housing market, though construction appears to be on a slow rise.
"But when you add in the other building throughout the county then the percentage of growth rate could go much higher than the 2 or 3 percent," warned board Chairman Archie Fox.
County Attorney Blair Mitchell noted the potential could occur, but likely wouldn't considering the economy and the housing construction industry.
"You usually have far more proffered than actually happens because there aren't that may jobs, there aren't that many people moving into the area," Mitchell said.
County Administrator Douglas Stanley said it's difficult to predict how many homes a developer would build in any project area from year to year.
Planning Director Taryn Logan explained that her department, in addressing the annexation request, looked back to plans initiated by Centex Homes to develop the property owned at the time by the partnership.
Centex Homes in 2006 eyed the property for the development of more than 1,800 homes, with a mix of single-family detached, attached and multifamily dwelling units. Centex eventually withdrew from the effort.
Supervisors raised concern about whether the county would have a say in how fast and dense the development could occur on the land in question. Stanley explained that supervisors could in the early stages of the annexation process relay their concerns to the developer. Mitchell said a deal reached among the three parties could lay out how the county would want the developer to build out the property.
"If you put it into an agreement and you had the three-judge panel approve the agreement then, yeah, it could be enforceable," Mitchell said.
But Stanley and Mitchell advised the county likely would not see the growth rate reach a tipping point.
"Reality is, in this economy you're not going to see everything build out quickly anyway, but at least there's some assurances there that the impact on the school system wouldn't be that fast, that great ..." Stanley said.
"Just having something that proffers they're going to build something year to year doesn't mean that's going to happen because if people aren't moving out here they're not going to be selling houses, and then you've also got other competing projects such as Swan Farm that are going to siphon off some of that growth as well," Mitchell said.
Front Royal could seek proffers, such as the phasing of the construction, should the developer seek to rezone the property through the town, Stanley explained.
Centex had proffered to pay for and construct hundreds of dollars worth of improvements to roads to address transportation concerns.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org