Spotsy Turvy

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine is calling for the coordination of transportation and land use planning. Now some House Republicans are talking about handing responsibility and funding for secondary roads to local jurisdictions on the grounds that they will make better land use decisions if they have to clean up their own traffic mess.

It sounds great in theory — and it’s a principle that I support personally — but beautiful ideas often turn ugly when applied to the real world. The Road to Ruin project has examined Prince William County’s $1.5 billion plan to upgrade its secondary road system (see “Will the Real Prince William Please Stand Up” and “Going it Alone“) and found a mixed bag as far as its commitment to changing transportation-inefficient land use patterns.

Now Road to Ruin writer Bob Burke takes a look at Spotsylvania County, where voters approved $144 million in road improvements last fall. There is no discernible action to encourage development that generates fewer and shorter automobile trips. As Hap Connors, chairman of the board of supervisors told Burke: “These are catch-up projects.” (Read Burke’s story, “Spotsy Turvy.”)

Fast-growing Spotsylvania is playing catch up, coping with zoning decisions made years ago. But the county will always find itself playing catch up unless it embraces more transportation-efficient forms of development.

When it comes to coordinating transportation and land use, devolving responsibility and funding for secondary road maintenance is part of the answer. But by itself it won’t lead to any magical changes. If citizens and local government practitioners think they can build their way out of traffic congestion, they won’t make any better decisions than VDOT did.

(Photo credit: DCS – Development Consulting Services.)

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18 responses to “Spotsy Turvy”

  1. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Good article.

    Has any local jurisdiction ever tried to find out where its citizens work and where people who work in the county/city live? Something like this could be done by zip code in order to protect individual’s privacy.

    It just seems to me that knowing these facts would help elected and appointed officials understand what’s going on in their communtity before they try to work with the citizens to change it.

    Obviously, there are many other demographic factors at play, but these statistics seem important. If a soccer coach wanted to pick a field for the team’s practices, it would be important to know where the team members lived. If, for example, the majority of team members lived on the east side of town, selecting a practice field on the west side might not be a good idea.

    This might be questions for EMR, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear from Larry or Ray.

  2. This isn’t something I know very much about, mainly because I have not been able to find much. There are studies that do as you suggest, but because they go by relatively large areas so you get aggregate information but not much that is very specific.

    We now have sufficient computer power to manage data on a lot of trips, but it is expensive to gather the data. When specific trip information is collected, it is usually based on a one day travel diary, as far as I can tell. And if the sample isn’t huge, you don’t learn much.

    The study I mentioned recently in Tallahassee collected a tremendous amount of information, but it was only for bus riders. I would think that something similar would be needed for auto studies.

    Only a handful of these have actually been done, and while there is some evidence that development patterns do affect travel, it is not at all clear how. The data is ambiguous, and when a model is developed for one area it turns out that it is not predictive when applied to another area.

    There are dozens, if not hundreds of obfuscatory and confounding factors. In the Tallahassee study, they deconvoluted dozens of these factors through regression analyses. It turned out that the best predictors of whether a neighborhood would be heavy transit users were 1) the number of households in a neighborhod without a car, 2) the number of families below the poverty line, and 3) the number of black families. It’s not pretty, but there it is.

    “Spotsy Turvey” is a nice article, but it has two identifiable facts in it: Spotsylvania County will spend $144 million to expand its secondary road network, and the voters approved the spending overwhelmingly. The rest is nice story telling, opinion, and conjecture, along with the utterly predictable comments of Stuart Schwartz.

    I don’t know how this guy gets so much press. To my way of thinking his ideas are, mostly, rotated 90 degrees from reality. Sure, mixed use, or at least not having residential and commercial widely separated makes sense, if you don’t think about it too long.

    I support having more office and commercial spots intermixed with residential areas, but what does that boil down to? It boils down to having more places.

    There are few problems though.

    There are plenty of pad sites available in the outer fringes of our shopping centers. We could plunk houses down on a few of them and see if anybody wants to live there. Probably not, and that land is really expensive.

    We could require inclusive zoning in residential areas, such that certain sites would be reserved for commercial enterprises, but the builders might have a problem selling the house next door. That is why we have semicommercial zones to separate commercial from residential: the sort of places where you are allowed to have a dentist office.

    Then there is the walking distance problem. You are going to need an awful lot of places if you intend to have a bunch of little town centers surrouded by conveniently placed residences. And even if you could pull this off in a hundred years or so, there is no guarantee that your town center would have what you need. There is always going to be a much bigger world out there.

    And jobs change. So next thing you know, your job is in the next town center, and your wife’s is in the town center in the opposite direction. I think of the time when The Plains had a lumber yard and Marshall didn’t, but Marshall had a Vet and The Plains did’t. So, pretty soon, all those confounding and obfuscatory facts that we never collected the data for start to rear their ugly heads.

    Linking land use with transportation is a nice tidy phrase, but as far as I can tell, no one actually knows how to do it. We have some examples that seem to work, like Ballston, at least for some people.

    That is another one of those obfuscations. When people study land use and transportation, one of the hardest things to factor out is the extent to which the population is self selecting, and what is the extent that it has to do with neighborhood planning. What would happen if you took everyone out of the neighborhood, and replaced them with other people at random? Would the neighborhood still have less travel?

    It turns out that when you study people in walkable neighborhoods, walking trips to local desitnations are in addition to and not instead of driving trips. It turns out that people in the suburbs do spend more on travel, but mostly because they drive bigger vehicles. And the time they spend traveling is only slightly more or even less than those in walkable neighborhoods near transit, because transit is so slow.

    All of this is still subject to debate, mainly ecause we have not collected enough facts yet.

    So, without any identifiable facts to back up the ideas, “Spotsy Turvy” suggests that we should link land use with transportaion, and that we should do it by “adapting different land use patterns.”

    Those are deceptively simple ideas, and I think that they really amount to deception.

    We could plunk down any pattern we want, tomorrow, and we would have very little idea of how to predict what travel patterns would result, or how long they would stay that way. Because, the day after tomorrow, things start changing, and every individual out there is going to start agitating for his own best advantage, maybe a better job in the next town, maybe a bigger house with more land, maybe better schools for their kids.

    Not only do we not know what land use patterns will work, but even if we did, we would first have to “adapt them”. That sounds pretty simple, unless it is your life’s biggest investment that is about to be “adapted”. “Adapting different patterns of land use” boils down to telling people how to live and what to do, because it is the use part of the sentence that is important.

    Even Schwartz says the potential is there but the connection often isn’t made. So, listen to your own words, Peter, it is chaos out there and you can’t possibly plan it all, freedom loving Americans won’t stand for it.

    Even if you could plan it all, it would utterly wreck the real estate market: some people would be planned out and some people would be planned in. There would be no opportunity for change. Even now it’s a crap shoot, and you can hear that in Honaker’s comment that at least with impact fees, you’d know going in what your obligation is.

    I don’t think those “disgruntled residents” voted $144 million dollars for Schwartz to tell them where to live: they voted it to fix the roads.

    Yes, linking land use to transporataion by changin all the land use are attractive and deceptively simple ideas. It is the deceptive and simple part that’s the problem.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    For folks who have not been paying attention, Spotsylvania is where I live and Hap Connors, the current chair is one of four candidates that were supported by a citizens group that was fed up with unmanaged growth that was seriously impacting schools and roads. I personally know him and he is a fine elected official – focused on growth issues.

    The next thing to understand about Spotsylvania is that it is a Bedroom Community. Thousands of commuters every morning head north on I-95 to the Northern Va area to their jobs. Many are government jobs or jobs directly supporting the government – contractors.

    Next point. Spotsylvania does NOT LUST after residential growth. In fact, they collect proffers in excess of $20,000 per home to help defray infrastructure expenses. This covers schools, libraries, etc but NOT roads – and it’s ONLY the capital costs not the operational/maintenance costs. It’s one of the highest proffers in Virginia.

    Spotsylvania decided to build it’s own roads after VDOT told them that the roads in the 6yr plan (sic) would not get built for 10-20 years – if they were lucky.

    The county asked voters to approve road bonds which they did but suprise, suprise, an independent consultant, subsequently hired, determined that the cost of the roads would be TWICE VDOT’s estimates. In other words, VDOT either low-balled the numbers and/or did not adjust long-delayed projects for inflation. (Ray thinks we should give VDOT more money.. and let bygones be bygones. I’m not as forgiving).

    Spotsylvania DOES believe in mixed use AND it requires inter-parcel connections between commercial businesses to cut down on multiple curb cuts along major roads and they discourage cul-de-sacs and encourage subdivision connections so they can share one signal on a main road vice multiple curb cuts.

    Their newest project is a New Urbanist village at the Courthouse.. now under construction.

    But the MOST IMPORTANT thing to know about Spotsylvania is that it is but one of a dozen or so counties with a huge growth rate that is due almost SOLELY to the abundance of jobs in the NoVa area. They’re all bedroom communities that have huge numbers of daily commuters to the NoVa area. They’re probably 30-40% of NoVa’s daily traffic volumes – but especially so at rush hour.

    Now… any way you cut it … until there is a sea change in how people get to work – like Stewart Schwartz is advocating – these huge numbers of folks are:

    1. – going to drive autos to work
    2. – going to use NoVa roads

    My feelings about growth are simply this – people who have a job in the NoVa area need a place to live.

    Efforts to “stop growth” in one jurisdiction won’t change the total numbers of people moving to this region because it’s the JOBS that determine whether they come here or not – not what Fairfax does about density and not what Spotsylvania does about mixed-used or residential development.

    THE challenge is upgrading the infrastructure to move all of these people.

    Folks – these people are not going back to Indiana…..or Kansas… or Pennsylvania. They’re HERE and more are coming.

    We can argue until the cows come home about whether it should be highways or transit (or more likely both) but the bottom line is:

    1. – new road/transit infrastructure IS going to cost a LOT of money

    2. – That money will NOT come from VDOT unless some sort of miracle happens in the GA

    3. – It is HIGHLY UNLIKELY that non-urban jurisdictions are going to allow themselves to be taxed so that their tax
    money can be sent to NoVa.

    4. – Even if it were somehow accomplished – look at the numbers… how much are you going to collect from rural
    virginians whose total numbers are a fraction of those who live in NoVa?

    So NoVa’s residents have THREE obvious choices (maybe others) on how to pay:

    1 – property taxes
    2 – sales taxes
    3 – toll roads

    Our discussions keep going round in circles and in my mind really evade focusing on fundamental realities.

    We diss Stewart Schwartz.. then “our” ideas are to tell businesses where to locate (move jobs).

    Let’s be fair to Schwartz .. and ourselves. Let’s allow both to think “outside of the box” but let’s also realize that we’re talking about changes that are not going to happen in the near term.

    For instance, just how likely is it for NoVa to say “no more jobs”, send them to Spotsylvania and then we diss Schwartz for HIS ideas. ๐Ÿ™‚

    To a certain extent, Schwartz is a messenger. He is saying that what we are doing now is NOT sustainable – and if you think about it – he IS correct because none of the short-term choices that we have are appealing at all right now and they clearly will be even less appealing as time goes by.

    How many more Springfield Interchanges does NoVa want to build – funded from NoVa citizens?

  4. Anonskeptic Avatar

    Why worry? The House of Delegates has the no-tax answer that will solve all past, present and future transportation problems. Spotsylvania is just wasting the taxpayer’s money (guess who has to pay off the bonds?) because the House solution is on the way.

    Wait a minute! It was unveiled in Hampton Roads yesterday. A new regional agency (with 55% overhead), tolls on new and EXISTING roads (hey, I thought that I already paid for this road?) increased license “fees” (nope, not a tax), and an increased local lodging fee (tax them Yankees and out-of-towners). I can’t see the future because of the traffic jam.

    Meanwhile, who pays for the problems created by poor land use decisions made over the past decade?

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Ray, Your comments do address a number of tangential points made in the story but miss the main point, which was to explore the idea that, if you want better alignment of transportation and land use planning, you should devolve responsibility/funding for secondary roads to the localities. This is an idea that is being kicked around by House Republicans and seems consistent with Gov. Kaine’s view on making the transportation/land use connection.

    To test this proposition, Road to Ruin decided to examine Prince William County and Spotsylvania County, two jurisdictions where local citizens/boards decided to voluntarily take on the burden of adding more roads. One could hypothesize that these localities would be more sensitive to the transportation impacts of their land use planning, and, therefore, they have incentives to think differently about land use than they did before.

    What we found is that, in both cases, the jurisdictions are still coping with land use decisions made long ago. Prince William has made some effort to change land use, particularly in the eastern part of the county, but not so successfully in the western part, while Spotsylvania doesn’t appear to be addressing the question.

    Therefore, my conclusion is this: That simply empowering local governments to build/maintain their own roads will not, by itself, lead to new thinking about land use patterns.

    Larry, Do you think that our article about Spotsylvania County fairly charactarizes what’s happening there? Did we fail to acknowledge changes in thinking about land use that are in fact taking place?

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    well.. here’s the headline:

    ” A group of Republican delegates backed a proposal Friday that calls for the creation of a Hampton Roads Transportation Authority, with the power to toll new and existing roads, increase annual licensing fees, and add a half-percent “local lodging fee” for area hotels and motels.

    The authority would be the main mechanism for raising money to build many of the region’s most sought-after transportation projects, including a portion of the proposed t hird bridge-tunnel linking South Hampton Roads and the Peninsula, without a general tax increase.”

    I’m going to predict… that unless NoVa comes up with a better alternate proposal.. that this same approach will be offered to NoVa – and it will be interesting to see if they accept or not.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Larry, Do you think that our article about Spotsylvania County fairly charactarizes what’s happening there? Did we fail to acknowledge changes in thinking about land use that are in fact taking place?”

    Yes.. except for the part of wanting more residential growth. They do not. In fact virtually all of the growth that is occuring right down is due to “by-right” (they cannot stop) and previous decisions.

    In fact, I felt it was a EXCELLENT article and very instructive of what happens “down in the trenches”.

    I hope folks notice that no matter what Spotsylvania does… that it cannot stop people from moving here and that the challenge is how to accomodate them… in terms of infrastructure.

    And there is an irony of sorts. The same folks who were fed up with traffic.. and willing to be taxed to pay for local roads… are … quess what? Northern Virginians who have fled that jurisdiction! ๐Ÿ™‚

    and these folks show up at hearings and say things like “I moved here 5 years ago from NoVa” and Spotsylvania was such a wonderful rural area with none of the problems of NoVa and now it has become like No Va.

    Having lived here myself for 45 years of my adult life.. my perspective of these folks is… that I hope none of them are actually rocket scientists.. in their employ. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Has any local jurisdiction ever tried to find out where its citizens work and where people who work in the county/city live?”

    YES… they have this NOW. They can tell you exactly how many Spotsylania people work in Arlington… GOOGLE “commuting patterns” census or the like.. or come back and I’ll provide a link.

    re: land use patterns in Spotsylvania

    Here’s a story you guys will like.

    Do you remember the “Reality Check” exercise for the Metro DC Area? Do you remember that the consensus response to inveitable job/population growth was … density?

    Well the Fredericksburg Area which including Spotsylvania had a similiar exercise last year and guess what .. the same exact answer… essentially UPZONE the areas around I-95 and major roads emanating from I-95.

    and the same dynamics that we see with respect to highers densities in NoVa.. some folks don’t want it… say that NoVa cannot afford it… same deal down here…. “keep those NoVa up where they belong”.

    But here is another point that I think is especially salient – What IF Spotsylvania went the max on density and other land-use paradigms currently espoused by New Urban folk and Stewart Schwartz, et al…

    How would that affect NoVa? Well.. given the fact that most of Spotsy’s growth (regardless of how land-use is done) IS, in fact, NoVa commuters… who live in Spotsy and work in NoVa.

    I-95 will still be maxed.. and more so as time goes by…ditto for NoVa roads/beltway/etc.

    So my question is – what exactly IS the benefit for bedroom communities like Spotsylvania to employ “better” land-use?

    This is a serious question.

    I can see how there might be less local traffic for Spotsy as folks go to soccer games and Giant Food.. but what about I-95 and NoVa?

  9. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Larry – thanks, I found the commuting data, by county, rather than by zip code, but it’s still useful. I do think, however, that in order to do any type of detailed planning, say for Tysons Corner, more granular data would be required.

    Jim – How does one create these types of “matched communities” where people live close to where they work? I understand the concept, but how does it work in practice?

    Let’s simplify the situation. Suppose a big earthquake leveled Tysons Corner (and only Tysons Corner, without loss of life, and with full insurance coverage for the property owners). In other words, we could start from scratch. Imagine that you are playing SimCity. What types of businesses would you place there (assuming you could dictate this)? What types of housing would you build there? How would you know that the jobs would match the target workers and residences? Would you extend Metrorail? What sorts of roads would be built? Parks, schools, etc. Given that a large number of people want affordable, single family homes on larger lots (per the Census Bureau), how do you attract these people to more dense urban living? And if you don’t, hae you succeeded? Let’s not even worry about financial issues at this time.

    I’ve heard Stewart talk a number of times. I’ve talked with him. I don’t disagree with everything he says, but how do you make this work in a complex place such as NoVA?

    As my old marketing friends would say: “Put a stake in the ground.” We’ll see where this goes.

  10. I agree that VDOT needs better management. On the other hand the graphs in the Texas study shows what happens when you delay: higher cots later and more costs for congestion in the meantime. If the 66 and 29 interchange had been done when it was needed, back in the Disney days, how many tens of thousands would have spent how many fewer hundreds of thousands of hours stuck in traffic, and what wouldit have cost back then?

    Like I said, I need a new tractor, but until that happens I have to keep working with the one I have. Doing nothing until VDOT get fixed is not an option.

    Speaking of fixing VDOT. I see that someone mowed down the sign at my local T intersection, again, for the umpteenth time. If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you will keep getting the same result.

  11. I agree with your four points entirely. I also agree that you can no more tell people where to locate their jobs than you can tell them where to live: I was wondering when someone would catch on to that idea.

    PW and Loudoun were both bedroom communities at one time, and both now have strong job options on their own.

    I have no problem with providing incentives: for another 144 million dollars Spotsylvania could put up an office building near a VRE station and give the space away for free. Such an incentive implies that you are willing to put your money where your mouth is.

    I have a real problem with disincentives that boil down to stealing. I used to have “by-right” building rights that were simply taken away, retroactively, so I don’t agree that there is nothing that can be done, just that the way it is usually done is clearly wrong.

    Note that this is different from a disincentive of the sort like charging full cost for services and then actually applying the money to support those services.

    There is county travel pattern data, as I said, but the level of detail is too gross to provide information as to whether smart growth panning will help within Spotsylvania, just as Larry asks. The Tallhasse bus stop survey went stop by stop with accessibility surveys in feet.

    As for the reality check exercise, it is just like the polls you meantion, or the AFT cost of community services studies: they are pre-planned for a certain result. At the same time, I have no problem with increased density, as long as its promoters pay the full locational costs.

    Where I have a problem is enforced higher density in one place and enforced lower density in another, with no compensation passing from the winners to the losers.

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Where I have a problem is enforced higher density in one place and enforced lower density in another, with no compensation passing from the winners to the losers.”

    Does that mean you are also opposed to counties upzoning land from say rural or residential to commercial?

    Are you opposed to a county deciding that one landowner can subdivide his/her property for a subdivision and at the same time refuse to grant the same deal to all landowners in the jurisdiction?

    Should any landowner be able to subdivide their property anytime they wish?

    If you take away from localities the ability to designate land-uses and densities… I’m not sure how any level of planning is achieved and especially decisions about when/where/how to build publically-funded infrastructure.

    Let’s turn this around … what exactly in Va Law is the reason WHY counties CAN prevent any owner of property for subdividing? … and why have landowners not banded together to have this law overturned?

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: starting over with Tysons…

    Let’s take a city… and look at a multi-story residential building.. and know that 20, 30, 40 years ago that building was not there and further that what WAS there was a one-story single family dwelling… or a warehouse.. name your low-density building….

    … Now look at Tysons and ask.. what keeps what is already built there from being taken down and replaced with much higher density housing?

    .. Now back to that first city. When they replaced the low-density building with a high-density building.. did they build an 8-lane freeway to accomodate the new residents?

    .. more questions…

    are most multi-story apartments in cities .. hard to rent? is there a high vacancy rate in places like Chicago..New York.. Boston, etc?

    ditto with Businesses… is there a shortage of businesses on Wall Street or downtown Chicago because of a lack of intercity freeways or expensive rents?

    Is there any reason to believe that if more residential high-rises go up in Tysons that it won’t work unless we build 8-lane freeways?

    Isn’t it more likely that Tysons will end up like other urban areas.. that “grew” from lower density to higher density?

    Will everyone live in a high-rise?

    Of course not but isn’t the real question whether or not ENOUGH people will live in high rises to make them economically viable to build?

    I think what we are seeing… is a “tipping point” in NoVa… where the time has come to decide if it is going to become more of a city than a suburb.

    I don’t think the arguments that have been put forth to date, with respect to why Tyson’s cannot be a higher density are credible…unless one wants to believe that there is something very unique about Tysons that makes it very different from other urbanizing areas.

  14. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Larry, I would readily agree that Tysons could be built more densely, but no one has explained how building high rises yields a balanced community. Many people, especially the landowners and their camp followers, regularly say that building density at Tysons means less traffic, affordable housing, etc. But not a single one has been ever able to explain how this occurs.

    What does a “balanced community” mean? How many people must live and work within the same community for it to be balanced?

  15. Larry, you are twisting my words and you know it. All I advocate is fair play.

    If I bought a property zoned for ten homes and it is subsequently re-zoned for five, then that is wrong, unless I’m compensated. If I am subsequently downzoned again to one, then that is wrong again, unless I’m compensated. If the county then turns around and offers to buy the one that remains, then what has happened is that the county has just admitted that the previous building rights were valuable property in fact, and that they were simply stolen.

    It is wrong, Larry, it’s wrong. I feel sorry for anyone who can’t see that.

    This is not a question of preventing people from subdividing, it is a matter of reducing the previously allowed level of subdivision without compensation. How would you like it if the house you paid for or that your grandfather built and gave to your father suddenly got got downzoned from five bedrooms to one? Do you remember that scene from Dr. Zhivago when the Bolsheviks were subdividing the manse?

    By the same token, If I bought a property zoned for ten units and the county subsequently re-zones it for twenty (Has this ever actually happened?) then the county has made me a gift, and I should be willing to share part of the value, if and when I ever capitalize on them. That is why we have proffers, impact fees, building permits, and property taxes.

    Yes, I think there should be a schedule of impact fees depending on known measurable factors, and provided you meet the safety requirements and pay the fee, it should be a done deal. Just as when buying a property with ten building rights, you should know up front what the situation is.

    The county makes themselves a party to the transaction by taking it on themselves to record the deed. It is their responsibility to protect the property, and they ought to record the can’s and can’ts along with the deed, and then stand by them.

    That way, my whiny new neighbors (Not my actual neighbors, who I like and respect) will have no standing when they say “I moved here five years ago…” because when they bought they would know what they bought into, and what they didn’t. So far as I know, no where on their deed does it infer any rights on my property. If they really don’t want something built next door, I’d offer them right of first refusal, as a common courtesy.

    I think you could say that the whipsaw that occurred in Loudoun is exactly an example of people overturning something they saw as unfair. Oregon did the same thing, twice, and similar bills are pending in six other states.

    At any given time there are more people benefiting from the present inequities than there are being damaged by it, so it is hard to get a quorum to overturn. But over time, the inequities become greater and more people are affected, in Oregon that took thirty years.

    One question is, when do you start with the inalienable building rights? In Oregon, the answer was twenty five years ago or three generations. This does not mean you can’t pass new regulations, just that you can’t do it for free.

    My question is not why it hasn’t happened here, but why is Virginia so far out of step, particularly given her history?

    I can’t prove it, but to my way of thinking the current penchant for growth control for free in rural is also happening in concert with just the opposite: building billions in infrastructure for the benefit of a few, and selling it as though it was a huge public benefit in urban areas.

    “Many people, especially the landowners and their camp followers, regularly say that building density at Tysons means less traffic, affordable housing, etc. But not a single one has been ever able to explain how this occurs.” Or show an actual example of where it has worked.

    I’m not opposed to density. If some landowner is granted a new deed with 200 more units on it, and if he can sell them, so be it. I do think that there should be some compensation to the public that granted this favor or gift. The public in turn can use the money to pay their obligations on properties that were downzoned, call it TDR’s if you like.

    I don’t even have a problem with transferable development rights. Let the people who want more density buy the rights. Let Fairfax developers buy them form Spotsylvania residents. I do have a problem with TDR’s being proposed after 99% of mine were already stolen.

    I’m not opposed to cut throughs or other reasonable accomodations to my plans, but….

    Take any of the rural residences around my farm and know that 20, 30, 40 year ago, they weren’t there. Now look at Ashby Glen, and ask yourself, what keeps what is already built there from being taken down and replaced with much higher density? I’m not opposed to density, but I’m in favor of a level playing field, if it’s good for Tyson’s then its good for me, we are just a few decades apart.

    You are right, efforts to stop growth won’t change the total numbers moving to the region: you are squeezing a balloon. So why should Ashby Glen get squeezed to death at the same time Tyson’s is (artificially) inflated? And, if the answer is because it is for the public benefit, then see paragraph two. Why shouldn’t the public have to pay for what it gets and and be prohibited from stealing it?

    Have you ever tried to get something built in Boston or New York? It is next to impossible, and that is why there are so few vacancies and rents are so high. Sure, there are people who desire to live that way, but they aren’t everyone. So, no, I don’t think Fairfax should be allowed to prohibit more jobs any more than I think Spotylsvania should be able to prevent more housing.

    And by the way, if you tried to build tony Back Bay today, you would be prohibited, because it was built on a swamp.

    In fact, the growth control situation got so out of hand in Boston that the state now imposes penalties agains localities where the land use rules are too strict, so you can add that to the Loudoun and Oregon examples. And consider the quote in last weeks Post, “The best thing regulators can do is stay out of the way.”

    I have couched this in personal terms, only because I know the most about what happened to my wife’s property. What I described in the second paragraph above is mild compared to what actually happened.

    There are others like me in my church and neighborhood, but we are few in numbers, compared to the mass of the county. This much I can tell you: what happened to my wife has made our lives poorer and more difficult, without doing anything to promote the continuation of the farm. After 175 years of supporting the county, it is too bad it has come to this.

    As it happens, we have no desire to develop the property, but that isn’t the point. The point is that we have no choice in the matter. The point is that others like us don’t either and some have been seriously hurt. One local described it to me this way: the SOB’s put me in a position where I could screw my daughter now, or screw her later.

    That guy and others like him are outnumbered in the county about 69,000 to 500. But it doesn’t make what happened to him right.

  16. TMT: what these guys don’t seem to realize it that balance is a dynamic condition, not a static one. You have to constantly work at it, and the conditions constantly change. Those people who want to preserve something forever, or “adapt better land use” simply don’t know what they are talking about.

    Fairfax is going to change, Loudoun is going to change, and Spotsylvania is going to change. What we need to do is accommodate the change fairly, with grace and beauty if we can.

    Instead, we have angst and stalemate.

  17. hapconnors Avatar

    I enjoyed talking with Mr. Burke about the things we’re doing in Spotsylvania County to fix our transportation challenges.

    However, I was under the impression that the article was about how we’re working with the private sector to tackle these problems, all of which are, as I said, “catch up” problems that should have been addressed long ago. Notwithstanding the reasons why we’re at this place, the majority of our Board voted for the PPTA option to take on the six-year projects that had been gathering dust on VDOT’s shelf for many years and which 60% of voters last year told us to fix. So, yes, we are working with the private sector to manage the implementation of the bond projects, which includes context-sensitive design standards and alternatives to more road lanes; and we’ve also contracted with private sector experts to help us develop a traffic movement study and comprehensive transportation plan.

    Had I had the opportunity – and I think we did touch on some of these – I would have gladly talked about the forward looking land-use discussions going on in our county and region. We are updating our comprehensive plan and will be voting to adopt it next year. It contains not only new land-use ideas, such as clustering, transit-oriented development and other smart growth ideas, but also addresses transportation, including an increased reliance on transit. I can assure you that it will generate much heated discussion, but I am sure we’ll have a good outcome.

    In addition, we’re also on the verge of finally voting to join VRE. Negotiations continue with the VRE Board, and even some of our Board members still oppose joining, but I’m committed to pushing ahead to try to get the votes to make this happen.

    I think that what impressed me most about the article, while balanced, is that it continues to surface the false choice in this transportation debate that advocates delay or inaction on these current problems until we create the perfect land-use/transportation solution that pleases everyone. The fact is that as leaders, we have to do both. We have an obligation to voters to do something now (especially when 60% say so), while doing a better job of planning for the future. That is what I’m doing, and if anyone has creative ideas that acknowledge this balance and can help us move forward, then by all means, let’s talk.


    Hap Connors
    Spotsylvania Co. Board of Supervisors

  18. “the false choice in this transportation debate that advocates delay or inaction on these current problems until we create the perfect land-use/transportation solution that pleases everyone.”


    Sounds like you are doing the right things, keep up the good work.

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