Click the image above to watch the WUSA 9 story
Due to the efforts of some frustrated Aquia residents, the sad story of the Aquia Towne Center is back in the news. BTW has covered this issue extensively, you can read more about it HERE and HERE and HERE. If you don't have the inclination to read all those posts, here is the general scoop on the history of the development:
First: Ramco-Gershenson, the previous owners of the entire area and current owners of the office building, came up with the original idea for upgrading the ATC. It was Ramco that ordered all the little businesses out of the center and tore down the vast majority of the buildings. This all happened over a decade ago.
Then: The economic bubble burst in 2007 and the whole project collapsed. Eventually, Ramco built the office building but they divided the rest of the property and sold it off, part to a developer called the Franklin Johnston Group who developed the Aquia 15 apartments and the rest to Mosaic for commercial development.
But wait: Mosaic bought the property only AFTER the BoS approved a tax incentive on May 5, 2015, one that was never discussed in public or placed on an agenda. This is important because the only way the public knows what items will be discussed at meetings is if the items are placed on the agenda, a document that must be distributed to the public in advance. Resolution R15-192 (click the link for the minutes to the meeting) was approved with the only discussion amongst the board happening in a closed session. The public only knew a deal was made after the fact.
The tax incentive gave Mosiac $6.25 million over a 15 year period of time, money that would come from tax revenue generated by the businesses in the ATC. If you never heard about it at the time and wonder how the BoS could do this with no pubic input, well, that's a great question. The simple answer is because they could. Fortunately, the by-laws have since been changed, thanks to Supervisors Meg Bohmke (Falmouth) and Bob Thomas (former GW district, current HD 28 rep), so that items can not be voted on at the same meeting when they are introduced if they have not been on the agenda in advance.
PLEASE NOTE: This shady deal is still in effect, meaning Stafford will give Mosaic $6.25 million dollars over 15 years if they ever get anything in the ATC. The BoS has not yet rescinded their agreement with Mosaic.
Next: The Aquia 15 apartments were built. Mosaic made all kinds of exciting promises, proceeded to effectively evict Regal Theaters by not renewing their month to month lease and then promptly tore down the theater building to make way for the new anchor tenant, Harris Teeter.
Finally: Disaster strikes and Harris Teeter tells Mosiac they are pulling out of ATC. In a last ditch effort to keep the anchor on the hook, Mosiac goes back to the BoS to ask for MORE incentives, this time to the tune of over $18 million over 30 years. Efforts are made by someone on the BoS to place this request on the consent agenda (meaning no public discourse occurs as all supervisors agree in advance to approve the item) BUT since it was never on an agenda in the first place, that can't happen. The news gets out (ok, BTW has something to do with that) and ultimately, after a whole lot of public discourse, the new request dies a slow death. No more money for Mosaic to give to Harris Teeter, so no anchor and no development.
I am well aware that some residents in Aquia are resentful that the second request for funding did not go to Mosaic because they are so desperate for something to happen there. I completely understand and also want something to happen in Aquia, I just don't support the BoS throwing money at the issue when the public has not had any opportunity to review the plans.
I DO support Kim Fischetti's grass roots efforts to force the hand of Mosaic by getting WUSA 9 to do the ATC story and by starting a petition at Change.org. Here's what Fischetti asks for in the petition:
Ask Mosaic to:
1. Develop the property with businesses that Stafford residents actually want and need, and clean up your mess.
2. Sell the property to someone capable of developing it with businesses that Stafford residents actually want and need, and clean up your mess.
3. Clean up your mess.
Ask the Stafford County Board of Supervisors to:
1. Use whatever forcing mechanisms you have available to you to force this mess to be cleaned up.
2. Work with Mosaic, or a new owner should they sell, to find sensible suburban development solutions that make sense now and in the future to serve the needs of our growing population.
Seems reasonable enough to me, which is why I signed the petition. If you would like to sign as well, click the link here.
I agree that Mosaic should feel all the pressure in the world to get something going or to at least clean up the mess. However, it is important to understand that the BoS can't make a developer build buildings or make a business come to Stafford. They don't have that kind of power, nor should they. I have read countless comments on Facebook from people who wonder things like "why doesn't the BoS get (insert your favorite store) to come" or "the BoS obviously doesn't care because they didn't get Harris Teeter to come here." Yes, ATC has been severely mismanaged and Aquia residents have every reason to be angry. But if the answer was as easy as, "let's just get X business to come" I assure you, we would not be in this situation. My point here is that there is only so much the BoS can do. The BoS can and should apply whatever pressure they can on Mosaic to clean the eyesore by applying fines. Personally, I love the passive park idea Supervisor Wendy Maurer (Rock Hill) proposed at a meeting last year. Of course, businesses would be better but if Mosaic won't do anything else until they get a new anchor, a grassy area is certainly better than what is there now, in my opinion.
As for misinformation, I will continue to shine a light on the activities of the BoS as they deal with this issue. It seems one elected official we will call Grumpy-Pants wants me silenced because he/she thinks I myself breed misinformation. Grumpy-Pants is apparently bothered by last week's overwhelmingly positive blog post, the one where I said I was optimistic about the BoS and the future, remember? Grumpy-Pants says that the Mosaic deal was not done "behind closed doors" because the actual vote happened on the dais (as if there was another way to vote), so I am "spreading misinformation." Okie-dokie, by that logic, Bill Clinton wasn't lying about Monica Lewinsky because it just depends on what your definition of "is" is.
Since Grumpy-Pants no longer responds to my emails, I don't really have any way to respond to this accusation except on my blog. I call 'em as I see 'em and when you go to extreme efforts to hide your activities from the public, that's legitimately shady and you deserve to get called on it. I think most people would agree that the public should have at least some sort of notification that their local government is about to spend over $6 or $18 million in tax revenue, call me crazy. If you think after all of the research I have done regarding this issue that I am missing a piece of the puzzle, feel free to enlighten me. I talk to anyone and everyone. But don't call me a liar just because you don't like your activities being exposed. Want me to go away and the BTW blog to die? Stop giving me things to write about.