July 8, 2008

BOCS Postpones Habitat’s Request

By Kipp Hanley, Manassas Journal Messenger, Va.

Jul. 8--A recent rezoning request by Habitat for Humanity for property on Websters Way in Prince William County won't be heard any time soon by the Board of County Supervisors.

Supervisor Martin E. Nohe-Coles took it off today's agenda, hoping the issue will be sorted out between the organization and a group of concerned residents. Nohe is working on setting up a meeting between Habitat, the residents and area watchdog Lake Ridge, Occoquan, Coles Civic Association Planning-Environment- Land Use- Transportation Committee or LOCCA-PELT.

The property in question was originally subdivided and proffered for three 1-acre Habitat homes in 1996--well before the adjacent land was developed for single-family homes. However, Habitat came back with a rezoning request that would allow for seven homes. That decision was economically driven because property taxes on the homeowner would have been too expensive for those eligible for Habitat housing, said Executive Director Traci DeGroat.

The rezoning request was met with strong opposition from area residents at a March Planning Commission public hearing that was

extended to May. Before the May meeting, Habitat changed its proffers to allow for market-based housing.

Unfortunately for Habitat, there was still opposition from some residents and ultimately, the commission recommended denial of the rezoning, citing too many houses on too little land.

Nohe said there are residents who might still be confused with just what Habitat is proposing. Part of the problem, Nohe said, is the rezoning process outdates the lifespan of the surrounding neighborhoods, which puts the current residents at a disadvantage.

"One of the challenges we have is that normally when a new rezoning is filed, one of the first things I do is have the applicant reach out to adjacent neighborhoods...," Nohe said. "The problem is these folks live in brand new houses. When the [rezoning] process started, there was no neighborhood, no one to reach out to."

Richard Bilodeau, who lives at nearby 5596 Victory Loop, attended the original public hearing in March with many of the same concerns as other residents. Bilodeau, who moved into the neighborhood at the end of February, said he and other residents felt that Habitat could have done more to inform them of the status of the land near their neighborhood.

But Habitat's proposal for market-based housing isn't an issue for Bilodeau and he welcomes any future meeting between the organization and the community.

"The first time we heard about it was the public hearing announcements. That's why this was such a heated thing," Bilodeau said. "No one told us anything, the builder didn't tell us

anything and Habitat made no outreach to the community to try to gather support."

DeGroat said Habitat held two public meetings with LOCCA-PELT and Mid-County Civic Association before the public hearing but didn't advertise those meetings specifically to the homeowners in that neighborhood.

"We are definitely

interested in discussing the project with them since they felt like they weren't made aware of it before," DeGroat said.

DeGroat said he hopes Habitat can still sell the land to a developer after an approved zoning change. The decision not to build on Websters Way will force Habitat to have to re-pay a grant of $263,000 for the development of that particular site, DeGroat said.

Staff writer Kipp Hanley can be reached at 703-369-5738.


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