The Board of Supervisors is currently considering a development proposal known as Winding Creek. The proposal will bring 97 new homes to the county at the intersection of Winding Creek Road and Embrey Mill Road. The estimated number of school children is between 64 and 127, depending on the formula used. Any Supervisor who would consider this development application most certainly did not hear the voice of the community when the School Board recently went through a redistricting process for Colonial Forge High School. I most certainly hope the application is ultimately denied, but if they do approve it I hope they get the right deal for it in the end.
The current proposal includes proffers for various items to mitigate the impact of the development on the county. Recently the applicant has proposed taking $500,000 that were to be dedicated to Stafford County Public Schools and put them into the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program.
The blog Break The Wheel reported on a meeting the developer had with the community in late May (Ed.Note: Read that write-up HERE.) The developer’s representative stated during that meeting that the $500,000 came from previously proposed proffer funding for impacts to schools.
The PDR program in simple terms pays large parcel land owners to acquire their development rights of the land. The land owner retains ownership of the land but cannot subdivide the land or sell to a developer to subdivide to build more houses. The program in itself is a good conservation program that can be a useful tool in combating sprawl and over development. However, Stafford County’s years of neglect of addressing infrastructure and school concerns has put us into a crunch that we must catch up on.
Forgoing proffers directed to schools to address impacts of population growth in favor of purchasing farm land is unfathomable at this critical juncture in Stafford County’s history. Putting cows before kids will mean continued crowded classrooms, inadequate infrastructure and the whole slew of issues that come with not addressing impacts of growth.
Location of proposed housing development
The PDR program currently has no pending applications from land owners looking to sell development rights to the county. Some Supervisors have expressed concern about the level of funds currently allocated to schools and the school division not using those funds. The current school proffer fund balance in the county is roughly $1.2 million. Some of those funds have certain restrictions on how they can be used and what projects they can be used on. Proffer funds have a general restriction on them that they must be used for projects that are to address impacts of population growth. With that the school division typically banks proffer funds until there is sufficient funding to have an impact on expansion projects or new school builds.
The School Board is currently being challenged with funding the rebuild project for Moncure Elementary School. The bids from contractors to build the school came in at about $2.5 million more than the budget. Through value engineering and other cuts to plans for the school, the gap has been reduced to about $1 million. The School Board will likely use proffer funds and other strategies to close that gap to ensure Moncure gets rebuilt and opened in time for the 2019-2020 school year.
The proposed Winding Creek school proffers also have a condition on them that $650,000 be dedicated to North Stafford High School. This could be problematic. While the School Board did take pro-active action to include this project in the North Stafford High School attendance zone as we went through the process of redistricting related to Colonial Forge HS, this project is also going to have negative impacts on Rodney Thompson Middle School and Winding Creek Elementary School. Development like this creates a domino effect in which it would be more ideal to be able to use proffer funds with greater latitude. For example, while these children may not attend Moncure Elementary School, that project could benefit from additional proffer funds to ensure it is built and opened on time. When complete the school will provide relief to the crowded hallways and classrooms of Winding Creek Elementary School.
However, it is within the prerogative of the members of the Board of Supervisors to negotiate with developers on proffers. During my time on the Planning Commission I most certainly saw far worse proposals for using proffer funds in development applications.
Stafford County is faced with a multitude of problems that stem from uncontrolled growth. From roads to schools, Stafford has existing needs that are below community standards that need to be addressed now. Over funding the PDR program is akin to the boy putting his finger in the hole of the dam to avoid the pending breaking of the dam. I would encourage you to contact your member of the Board of Supervisors and encourage them to vote not accept the proffer proposal that reduces funding to school proffers and ultimately vote no on this project.
Find contact information for your County Supervisor HERE.