Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Culpeper Growing Up, Not Out

Running out of room to grow, Culpeper Town Council is considering an ordinance that would increase the maximum allowable height for buildings from 35 feet to 50 feet. Reports the Culpeper Star-Exponent: “We are basically locked horizontally,” said Town Councilman Tom Huggard, a member of the planning commission. “So the only way to expand is to go up. It makes sense.”

It is heartening to hear that the idea makes sense to Culpeper residents and officials, for many people have an irrational fear of "density." The new ordinance would allow greater development inside the town limits without, as Huggard put it, allowing someone to build a Washington Monument next door to a single-family house.

The change was prompted when local developer Greg Yates asked the Town to raise the height limit in commercial areas. Yates wants to build 53 condominium units and underground parking on a three-and-a-half acre site. Easing the height restrictions will allow him to build the condos in three buildings rather than four, freeing up space for gardens and sidewalks.

The broader lesson to localities: Letting property owners build at greater densities allows them to build in amenities and improvements they could not afford otherwise. As long as the scale of new buildings doesn't conflict with neighboring properties, everyone can come out ahead.


At 9:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rivergate and U.S. 1
Potomac News
Friday, December 23, 2005

Members of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors did something this week that not too many suburban governments have had the guts to do. They approved a plan to build up, instead of out.
This week's approval of the Rivergate high rise condominiums along the Occoquan River in Woodbridge will be the signature project in the county's attempt to revitalize the U.S. 1 corridor. For all the public complaining over the state of Woodbridge along this aging highway, county supervisors did the right thing by approving construction of something that is far from common here in the suburbs.

Construction will begin next year and when completed, Rivergate will feature 720 condominiums in three 15-story towers. It's high density housing, and when perched in the right place it represents smart planning.

When looking for answers in its quest to improve the U.S. 1 corridor, the board turned to the Urban Land Institute, which recommended using the county's waterfront as an asset for development. The institute also acknowledged the need to concentrate housing near transportation hubs.

The Rivergate towers fulfill both objectives. With the board's approval, the zoning at the site (between I-95 and U.S. 1) was changed from industrial to residential. The site is close to the Woodbridge VRE station and two commuter lots. It's also a jumping off point for commuters taking I-95, Va. 123 and U.S. 1. It's also a logical link for Metro expansion.

Building homes on transportation hubs has far less impact on traffic than the stereotypical suburban subdivisions that continue to go up throughout Northern Virginia. These subdivisions gobble up land and clog up feeder roads, including Minnieville Road, Prince William Parkway and Old Bridge Road. Rivergate doesn't do that, and it uses far less land.

Opponents of this development complain that the 720 units will tie up traffic along the U.S. 1 and I-95 corridor. While it is true that this corridor is already a rush hour nightmare, adding these high rise units cannot be blamed for the region's traffic jams.

The region's gridlock gets worse each time another cookie-cutter subdivision is built in Stafford County or central Prince William. County supervisors should work to build more projects like Rivergate, while doing all they can to cut back on the generic communities that continue to feed suburban sprawl.

When completed, Rivergate will change the look of the U.S. 1 corridor. It complements neighboring Belmont Bay and the town of Occoquan. Farther south will be Potomac Center, a mixed use development, and the National Museum of the Marine Corps and Heritage Center on the southern portion of the corridor.

Yes, high rises may first appear frightening to some suburbanites. But true fright, however, should come from the construction of more strip malls and town houses. Those outdated structures - and not luxury high rises - are impediments of progress along U.S. 1.

At 7:08 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

It is true that the 720 condos to be built in Woodbridge can't be blamed for our current traffic problems.

But the contention that such development ha far less impact on traffic has yet to be shown. Only about 20 per cent of auto traffic is commuter related so VRE and METRO if and when it gets built won't help much. No one claims that the buyers of those condominiums in suburban Woodbridge will not own cars, and use them.

Higher housing density always means higher traffic density. The best estimates are that a ten percent increase in density results in a 0.7 per cent decrease in auto use, but because the residents go up faster than usage decreases, traffic gets worse.Simply saying traffic is alredy bad does not mean these reidents won,t make it worse: worse at a slower rate is still worse.

In todays world those owners are as likely to work in Dumfries, Fort Belvoir, Quantico, Manassas, or Fair Lakes as they are to take VRE to work. VRE is already crowded and experiencing congestion of it's own and betting on a new METRO terminal is a long shot and a long term bet. What happened to linking land use with transportation? Surely. Building such structure where trafficx is already bad doesn't fill that bill.

But hey, maybe its all right if you believe thes towers will complement what was once bucolic Belmont Bay and which is now often a hornets nest of jet skis.

At 7:17 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Urban Virginia suffers because its leaders cannot or, perhaps, will not understand that the capacity of a ten-pound bag is just about ten pounds. When one tries to put 15 pounds into that sack, it will tear.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both "smart growth" and "sprawl." But in either event, a road, wastewater treatment plant, school, etc. can handle only so much demand.

The continued growth of Virginia will require substantial and (probably) very expensive increases in public infrastructure. Who benefits? Who pays? I keep coming back to the same fundamental principle -- development today is win-lose. Some win big from development, as others lose. Winners fight for more; losers fight against any.

GMU's Stephen Fuller demonstrates that, in Metro Washington, only 42% of the economy is local business that, presumably, benefits from growth. That means 58% isn't. With the situation where the marginal cost of supplementing infrastructure appears to be substantially higher than the embedded cost, do we fight or do we change the rules to shift more responsibility for the costs to the 42% and/or more of the benefits to the 58%.

Also, does the large part of Virginia that reaps the benefits of NoVA's growth in the form of state revenues pay NoVA a bounty for putting up with the costs of growth? For example, the State could remit 20% of the increased income tax revenues above inflation to the County/City where they were generated. That would likely mean higher property taxes in many parts of the state and lower property taxes (at least in real terms) in NoVA. Such a result might take away some of the sting experienced by those of us who live in the midst of growth.

My money is on continued fighting.


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