2017-09-13 / Real Estate

County considers tweaking proffer policy


The Board of Supervisors waived proffers for a new upscale apartment complex planned for the undeveloped, northwestern corner of Westchester Commons. 
PHOTO BY TOM STILES/SKYSHOTS PHOTOGRAPHY The Board of Supervisors waived proffers for a new upscale apartment complex planned for the undeveloped, northwestern corner of Westchester Commons. PHOTO BY TOM STILES/SKYSHOTS PHOTOGRAPHY As it approaches the anniversary of its sweeping overhaul of the county’s cash proffer policy, the Board of Supervisors is likely to tweak the policy to allow developers to gain credit for road improvements completed years earlier.

The policy now permits the board to reduce or eliminate an applicant’s proffers, fees paid to the county to offset a residential development’s impact on public roadways, based on the dollar value of on-site road projects. But the road projects must have been completed within the past five years and “prior to the traffic impact of the entire development being present.”

That section of the policy has been a major sticking point in a handful of recent zoning cases, including two at the Board of Supervisors’ Aug. 23 meeting in which the board waived nearly $3.5 million in proffers.

The board has asked County Administrator Joe Casey to work with staff and provide greater clarity about how that language should be applied to future cases.

The supervisors previously approved policy revisions in April that govern the waiver of proffers for residential projects located in revitalization areas.

“When we re-did the proffer policy [last year], I think we knew we would have to perfect it as we move forward,” Matoaca Supervisor Steve Elswick said. “There’s no reason why we can’t make this better.”

Casey noted that he included what has become known as “the five-year rule” for on-site transportation improvements to mirror the county’s policy on credits for developer-initiated utility infrastructure projects. But he also acknowledged that when he was crafting the updated proffer policy, he didn’t anticipate the impact that clause would have on developments that were zoned many years ago.

That includes several residential projects that hadn’t been fully built out when the housing market collapsed in 2008.

A combination of legislative relief – the General Assembly passed changes to state law last year limiting Virginia localities’ ability to collect cash proffers – and a steadily improving economy have brought those developments back to life.

Since the Board of Supervisors reduced the county’s maximum cash proffer last September from $18,966 per residential housing unit to $9,400, many developers filed to amend their properties’ zoning and reset the proffers. Others have made various arguments for eliminating their proffers altogether.

In the two Aug. 23 cases that prompted Elswick’s request for another review of the cash proffer language, developers sought to offset proffers through credits for on-site transportation improvements. In his application for rezoning on the remaining 232 lots in his Collington subdivision, developer Doug Sowers requested $2.6 million in credits – including $2.3 million for the construction of Springford Parkway, which has become a significant connector between Spring Run and Winterpock roads.

Sowers’ attorney, Kerry Hutcherson, argued that the roadway should qualify for credit as an on-site transportation improvement even though it was built in 2004 – well beyond the five-year threshold. “The cash proffer policy doesn’t get into exactly when the five-year period begins or ends,” Hutcherson said. “It does mention that consideration can be given to road improvements that were made before the full impact of the development is realized and that’s exactly the case we have here. That road was providing benefits to the citizens for a long time before the development was finished. It’s still not yet finished.”

Elswick agreed, pointing out that only about 55 percent of the vehicle traffic on Springford Parkway is generated by residents of Collington. “The other 45 percent is coming from areas and subdivisions that cut through Springford Parkway,” he said. “It takes traffic off Winterpock Road. It takes traffic off Hull Street Road. It also takes traffic off Beach Road and River Road.”

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in support of Elswick’s motion to approve Sowers’ rezoning with the payment of no cash proffers. The board voted unanimously to waive proffers for developers Casey Sowers and George Emerson on their planned 250-unit Westchester Apartments project adjacent to the Westchester Commons shopping center. Attorney Brennen Keene suggested the elimination of $1.3 million in cash proffers was justified. Keene said the owners of the shopping center have paid $12.9 million out of pocket and an additional $11.5 million in special assessments from a community development authority formed to pay for needed infrastructure, including road improvements, at Westchester Commons.

He acknowledged the road improvements were made more than five years ago, “but the owners are still paying for them and they’ve paid a significant amount of money.”

“I look at the numbers Mr. Keene put up and there’s no question in my mind that these improvements have been paid for,” Clover Hill Supervisor Chris Winslow said. ¦

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