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Developers, Officials Hope New Projects Will Change Identity Of Prince William County

Prince William County’s reputation as a bedroom community is beginning to shift, or at least that is what elected officials and developers hope. 

Located about 40 miles from downtown D.C., the county has historically been dominated by single-family homes where residents can commute to the city but also live on larger pieces of land. But a series of new developments moving forward is poised to change that dynamic and make the county more of a destination, panelists said Sept. 27 at Bisnow’s Exploring Prince William County event. 

Walsh Colucci’s Jonelle Cameron, Peterson Cos.’ Taylor Chess, Audeo Partners’ Madi Ford, IMEG Corp.’s Michael Kitchen, The IDI Group Cos.’ Carlos Cecchi and Rappaport’s Henry Fonvielle.

The pandemic-era trend of more people moving to the suburbs and working from home has led residents to spend more of their days in Prince William County and has helped position it for a more mixed-use future, developers and county officials said. 

“Prince William County is shedding its previous identity as a quiet bedroom community to Washington, D.C., and emerging as an economic and social powerhouse in its own right in Northern Virginia,” Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Ann Wheeler said at the event, held at Sweeney Barn in Manassas. 

With the expectation of more vibrant, mixed-use and multifaceted ecosystems coming down the pike, developers and public officials are trying to get ahead of hurdles to come, addressing issues like transportation, affordable housing and government infrastructure before it's too late. 

Several large-scale mixed-use developments are planned for the area, including Riverside Crossing, a development set to span 19.2 acres in north Woodbridge led by IDI Group Cos. and Boosalis Properties

IDI Group Cos. Managing Director Carlos Cecchi said the hope is the development "will be a true live-work-play environment."

“We’ve seen it closer in the D.C. area, and we feel like it’s now time to bring it to Woodbridge," he said.

The development is planned to deliver three mixed-use buildings totaling 930 multifamily units, three commercial buildings and 145K SF of retail, including grocery, pharmacy, restaurants and daycare space, according to its website. Cecchi said the goal is to get shovels in the ground this year.

This kind of development is all relatively new for the county, Prince William County Department of Economic Development Executive Director Christina Winn said. 

Prince William County officials Christopher Shorter, Rick Canizales, Christina Winn and Bob Sweeney.

“When you look at Prince William County, we don't really have a downtown, and so being able to create these places, these special places where people want to go have a coffee or walk to restaurants or entertainment, that’s exciting to me,” Winn said. “And we’re going to see that continue to grow and prosper.”

But the success of these mixed-use developments will depend on creating self-sustaining ecosystems within the county, panelists said, and they need companies to locate there to provide a workforce and economic growth.

“When you look at diversification, that is really the key to economic resiliency within the county,” Winn said, adding that the county is aiming to recruit life sciences, government contracting and manufacturing companies, and it is working to prop up small businesses. 

The county has begun to attract more data centers over the past few years as they spill over from Loudoun County. The board of supervisors in November approved a controversial plan for a 2,100-acre development district that could lead the way for it to become one of the world's major data center hubs.

Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Ann Wheeler speaks at Bisnow's Sept. 27 event.

The county simultaneously needs to focus on developing the infrastructure that allows those sectors to mature while still staying in the county, Winn said. 

“You have to create the life cycle of businesses within these industry sectors — communities, in a sense — where you’re bringing in your workforce, your higher ed, all of your different government assets to create essentially an ecosystem so that businesses can incubate here and then grow and thrive and build,” she said. 

But there are still big barriers to making Prince William County a sustainable mixed-use environment, panelists said: hurdles like transportation, affordable housing and the county's approval process.

“The [Virginia Railway Express] needs to grow up as an organization and be more than a commuter rail service and start serving this community more like Metro service does where they have some weekend service, have some midday service,” Prince William County Director of Transportation Rick Canizales said.

Developers and officials discussed how they are working to incorporate more multimodal transportation options into new real estate projects. 

“Part of our project [at Riverside Crossing] is a proffer to provide funding to build a pedestrian bridge from the Station Plaza shopping center site across to the Woodbridge VRE station as well as including bus stops on the site, bike lanes, bike infrastructure, both at the VRE and along the site, and multi-use trails around the site, through the site,” Cecchi said. 

The speed in which zoning and permitting applications get through city processes is also vital to preparing for the expected wave of development, panelists said. 

Peterson Cos.' Taylor Chess and Audeo Partners' Madi Ford.

“There have been a couple of years of slow process and getting bogged down,” Peterson Cos. President of Development Taylor Chess said. 

“We have a backlog of cases. We have lots of plans that are held up,” he said. “We need to help, and the county needs to be able to put efficient processes in place to move plans through.”

Chess added that new Prince William County Executive Christopher Shorter is invested in tackling that backlog, and Shorter discussed those efforts at the event. 

“I’m excited that we are making the kinds of investments early on so that we are continuing to see the quality of life improve in our county,” Shorter said.

“You can probably think of places, localities where they’ve seen the growth first and then start making the investments,” he said. “I'm thinking about, in particular, transportation investments. And I’m just really excited to see us making those investments now.”