The Prince William Board of County Supervisors recently saw a presentation that showed how its legislative priorities fared in the 2019 session of the Virginia General Assembly.
Two significant issues for the Board of County Supervisors that they hoped the Virginia General Assembly would address were fixing the proffer legislation passed in 2016 and impacts from the closure of coal ash ponds at Dominion Energy's Possum Point facility.
Proffer Legislation Amended
Proffers, the conditions voluntarily offered by developers as part of a proposed rezoning to address the anticipated impacts their developments will have on the community, historically provided a means by which developers could address public concerns with a residential development. In 2016, homebuilders successfully lobbied the General Assembly to limit localities' ability to negotiate proffers and imposed hard consequences on a locality if it even suggested an "unreasonable proffer." The legislation limited the Board's and community's ability to proactively and productively engage with developers about the potential impacts of the proposed development and the concerns that citizens raise regarding the proposed development.
"The legislation made it so that the Board of County Supervisors could no longer work effectively with the development community to shape the character of the community and protect the quality of life of our residents through the rezoning process," said Jason Grant, Communications Director.
Although not all the Board's concerns with the 2016 proffer legislation were addressed, several amendments were made that help restore the Board's ability to consider public input and have an open dialogue with developers interested in rezoning and developing property in Prince William County.
Under the 2019 legislation, developers may again engage with the Board and community in a dialogue about proffering solutions to potential impacts of their planned development. In the past, proffers have typically included park land, school sites, road improvements and cash proffers paid to the county to fund capital projects to meet future needs resulting from the project. The 2016 legislation significantly limited the Board's ability to even discuss potential proffers with developers, and accept proffers such as land dedications, capital improvements and monetary contributions. The new amendments will provide the Board with greater flexibility to engage in this important dialogue with the development community, community groups and citizens. Further, it will allow the Board to accept proffers voluntarily offered by a developer — including land, improvements and monetary contributions — which are intended to mitigate the development's potential impacts on the community.
"There are still challenges with this legislation for sure," Grant noted. "We basically have two different processes regarding rezoning. One with robust community input where developers partner with the community for smart development and growth, and one where the developer has chosen to limit the ability of the Board to address community concerns about the development's impacts." This, the county argues, may create confusion on what is permissible and what options are available during the rezoning process. However, Grant notes, "It is an improvement, but we will need to see how these changes impact residential rezoning in the future."
Coal Ash Legislation Protects Environment, but Fails to Prohibit Potential Increase in Truck Traffic
A law regulating how Dominion Energy Virginia must close its coal ash ponds at its Possum Point facility along the Potomac River and Quantico Creek, along with three other sites across the commonwealth, passed the General Assembly.
In concert with the Board's priorities, the new law states that the coal ash ponds will have to be closed by removing the coal ash, also called coal combustion residuals or CCR, and placing it in a "permitted, composite lined landfill" with a leachate collection system that meets federal requirements to keep contaminates from leaching into the ground. The legislation allows the landfill to be located at Possum Point or offsite. The law also requires that Dominion close all coal ash ponds in 15 years and a minimum of 6.8 million cubic yards of coal ash must be reused or recycled, with ash coming from at least two of the four sites.
The legislation comes up short, however, in protecting neighboring communities from the likely barrage of truck traffic that could result from moving CCR from the property (whether as raw ash or recycled product). Dominion is required to consult with the county to develop a transportation plan that includes alternatives to truck traffic "if feasible" and to publish the transportation plan on a publicly accessible website.
However, there is no legal obligation in the legislation that requires Dominion to take into account public input or to address community concerns, and the Board has no legal authority to prohibit truck traffic on VDOT roads, which provide access and egress from the Possum Point facility.
"We asked the General Assembly to include language that would prohibit an increase in truck traffic on Possum Point Road above 2018 levels," said Grant. "They put in language to protect the Chesterfield site to accommodate Speaker Cox's request to reduce truck traffic, but they would not do so for Prince William County. We will continue to work with our delegation and the Governor's Office to seek solutions to limiting increased truck traffic and address likely impacts on residents and the road network. We are hopeful that we can also work closely with Dominion on this important issue to address the community's concerns."