Image by the developer.

Prince William County is currently in the middle of reviewing a proposed mixed-use project in Manassas known as the Kline Farm Development, which has been met with strong resistance from the local community.

However, unlike the piqued urbanites balking at badly-needed density in cities like DC (like GGWash often covers), these people live in a far-flung suburb that quickly fades to farm land. However, there is still a need for more affordable homes in Northern Virginia, and the developer is arguing its new trails and proximity to transit make it friendly to bikers and pedestrians. 

Do urbanists’ pro-density, pro-transit-oriented development arguments apply here?

This is the farmland where the development would be located. Image by Google Maps.

Here’s why the project has faced opposition

Developer Stanley Martin wants to build 400 new homes and 400,000 square feet of commercial space for a self-storage center, a CVS pharmacy, a fast food restaurant, and a Sheetz convenience store over 100 acres at the intersection of Prince William Parkway and Liberia Avenue. The land is currently a defunct farm that has not been in use for some time.

Despite the fact that there is a lack of affordable homes in Northern Virginia, the project has attracted strong pushback from some community members who have raised many of the typical concerns about overburdened local resources and changes to the area. The antipathy is so strong a Change.org petition to stop it has attracted more than 4,000 signatures.

Sources of contention range from potential impacts on nearby residential well water, changes to the rural landscape, concerns about dropping home values due to additional supply, expanding class sizes, and the potential for emergency services to become overburdened.

The petition creator writes, “There are already plenty of gas stations, fast food restaurants, and drug stores on Liberia Avenue and Wellington Road, more of the same businesses are not desired.”

The area where the development would be located is farmland.  Image by Google Maps.

Interestingly, the developers are using smart growth arguments about the development. Martin says the proposed buildings’ proximity to Manassas City means residents could walk to shops (some are located only blocks away) and bike to its downtown (which would take about 10-15 minutes, depending on where in the development they're coming from.) Martin plans to construct a 10-foot-wide pedestrian and bicyclist path along Prince William Parkway, as well as a series of small parks and trails in and around the development

The plan also envisions OmniLink and OmniRide bus stops for local and commuter riders, respectively, in the heart of the property. Thirty percent of the land would remain open.

Commuters could also enter Manassas via the Virginia Railway Express and Amtrak stations in the city’s downtown station, which is located about a 40-minute walk or 12-minute bike ride from the northern end of the development. However, most new residents would likely drive on the already-congested Route 28, which recently-elected Delegate Danica Roem campaigned on fixing.

That likely increase in traffic is a big concern for some residents. The petition claims there will be an increase of 15,000 daily automobile trips, which the developer has said is inaccurate. A Manassas Local article writes that the development will produce an additional 9,000 trips.

Here's what the development would look like. Image by the developer.

The current design is trying to balance density with "character," and there are some shortcomings

Martin seems to be trying to compromise between the housing demands of Prince William County and the sparse suburban feel that is prevalent in much of the center of the county. He’s proposing a mixed-use development that implements higher density to support a small walkable environment near existing bike trails and mass transit stations like the nearby Virginia Rail Express (VRE), while still catering to people who enjoy the suburban development model.

The development design provides commercial space and townhouse development on the western half, while the eastern side is reserved for detached homes and a community center. (It would provide 265 townhomes and 135 single-family houses total.) While the denser housing model in the proposal is much needed to help alleviate the housing shortabe that is affecting much of the NoVa area, the current design does have some major shortcomings.

The first issue is that the design rigidly separates land uses and leaves little room for deviation within the allotted spaces, which leads to other problems. One of the oppositions' main concerns is that the commercial section provides more of the same. Without a new approach to providing commercial space within a reasonable distance from residential, only big box stores and well-known chains will be able to survive in these developments. A zoning change is needed to bring in different types of stores.

The second problem is the roads and access points. Due to the separation of land uses, the eastern section has limited access to the commercial center, which requires its residences to drive to the commercial area. There are also a limited number of entry points to connect the development to the surrounding area, especially in the eastern section due to its use of culs de sac.

Finally, all exits lead only to the Prince William Parkway, and there seems to be no plan to connect the Kline Farm Development to other secondary roads or provide connections to other future developments that may come.

This figure shows the site's access points in red and blue. Image by the developer.

There’s another wrinkle

Proponents of the development such as Superintendent Martin Nohe, whose district contains Kline Farm, says that the development is a compromise. Prince William’s Comprehensive Plan allows up to 600 units to be built in the development. Additionally, if they wait, Nohe notes the county could lose almost $16 million in proffers offered by the developer for school and transportation improvements.

Proffers are conditions that mitigate the negative impacts of a rezoning project to public infrastructure, often direct cash contributions or infrastructure improvements. In this case, the developer offered to counteract the impacts of an influx of students by giving money to local schools and the impacts of increased traffic by giving money for transportation.

The plan for Kline Farms was proposed before the state legislator limited what a local government would ask for from a developer before building. Superintendent Nohe warns that if the Kline Farm development falls through, the county might not get as much next time.

What should smart growth advocates think about developments like these?

If the county and Stanley Martin address these issues, this development could supply the area with housing, alleviate some of the traffic issues by providing more access points and alternative travel routes, and provide an environment that is friendly to small businesses—that residents could access without an automobile.

What do you think about this development? What kinds of smart growth, pro-density arguments apply to areas like this, which are located in the far suburbs?

Benjamin Sullivan is a NoVa native with a Bachelors in Political Science and earning a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning. He currently works for Prince William County in its Department of Development Services, where he assists with zoning applications. When not working, Ben enjoys biking to new areas and playing video games with friends.