2014-01-01 / News


Commission greenlights proffers exception for Harper’s Mill
By Michael Buettner

A request to change the terms of a major subdivision’s zoning conditions got speedy backing from the Planning Commission despite county staff’s recommendation to deny the request over the issue of cash proffers.

The developers of the 1,100- acre, 2,400-home Harper’s Mill community off Otterdale Road south of U.S. Route 360 have applied to change the conditions included in the original 2003 zoning case. The vast majority of the subdivision, 993 acres, has yet to be developed.

Developer Mark Sowers and a company he’s affiliated with, HMG Investments, are attempting to change the timing and terms of some road improvements and to make some technical changes regarding setbacks and other conditions.

Planning Department staff indicated in a report that they had no opposition to those requests. But Sowers was also asking to keep the project’s cash proffers at the level set in 2003, and planning staffers said that request went against county policy.

While the other changes are acceptable, according to the staff report, the proffer request “exceeds the Board [of Supervisors’] five-year time limitation to consider such requests.”

The case was originally approved with a cash proffer of $7,800 per home, which was the maximum proffer amount at the time. That amount has been adjusted upward to compensate for inflation and currently is $12,922 (or $7,014 for senior housing units without children, which are expected to have a lower impact on county schools).

But because more than five years had passed since those proffers were approved, county policy requires that the project’s cash proffer be reset to the county’s current maximum, $18,966 per home.

Brennen Keene, an attorney who represented the developer at the Planning Commission’s Dec. 17 meeting, argued that the fiveyear rule shouldn’t apply to Harper’s Mill. He noted that the rule was created to discourage “land banking,” the practice of acquiring and getting residential zoning for large parcels of land at low cash proffer levels and then leaving them undeveloped for years at a time.

Harper’s Mill clearly is not a case of land banking, Keene argued, because home construction has been going on steadily in the neighborhood ever since it won approval. More than 100 homes have already been built in the two sections of the subdivision that have been opened to date.

The commissioners generally agreed. Dale Patton, who represents the Bermuda District, objected to what he called an “arbitrary five-year interval” and said Harper’s Mill “doesn’t look like land banking.”

Midlothian District Commissioner Reuben Waller said the five-year rule “may have had some merit” several years ago when soaring prices for homes and land made land banking an attractive investment strategy, but conditions are different today.

Edgar Wallin, commissioner for the Matoaca District where the subdivision is located, noted that the developer will still be paying “significant proffers” and asked the commission to support the request. They did, voting 5-0 to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve it.

In other business

County staffers working on implementing the new comprehensive plan approved by the Board of Supervisors last year are moving ahead early on redrafting the Special Area Plan for Bon Air.

David Pritchard, the special projects manager overseeing implementation of the comprehensive plan, told the commission that county officials decided to launch work on the Bon Air plan earlier than originally scheduled because of concerns about how long it could take to complete rewrites of all eight Special Area Plans.

Work previously had started on rewriting the Ettrick plan, the first of the eight to get attention. However, Pritchard said that based on the county’s experience in drafting the Northern Courthouse Road Community Plan, which was adopted in 2008, it could take up to five years to complete work on each plan.

Staff members learned a lot from that process, Pritchard said, and have suggested process changes that they believe will reduce the time needed to 16 months per plan.

Return to top