Business leaders and local elected officials gathered to talk about the future of the region at Old Hickory Golf Club in Lake Ridge.
City of Manassas Park Mayor Jeannette Rishell, City of Manassas Mayor Hal Parrish, and Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart made up the panel hosted by the Prince William Chamber of Commerce.
One of the initial topics discussed was how technology will impact the area, and what that means for the localities.
“In my opinion, localities would be well served if they would maintain a sense of flexibility, a willingness to pivot based on changing circumstances – it could be something so simple as proactive with the zoning changes in order to accommodate and attract new businesses that might spin off of these cutting edge technologies,” said Rishell
Parrish spoke about the rise of autonomous vehicles, like the aircraft Manassas-based company Aurora Flight Sciences is working on, and autonomous cars.
“I for one, want to continue to drive my car, but you all – some of you, certainly – want autonomous vehicles. The impact for that could be substantial for our transportation system,” said Parrish.
For Stewart, he feels that Metro rail is out of date and is out-of-sync with the future of tech, pointing instead to autonomous and even flying cars.
“We’re never going to have Metro, we need to acknowledge that, and that’s okay because technology is driving the automotive industry – it’s not affecting heavy rail…the roadways will again be, and will continue to be, the prime way which people will get to and from work,” said Stewart.
All three of them acknowledged that additional growth in the region will pose large challenges to local government.
“What does it mean to local government? Transportation challenges, police challenges…fire and rescue challenges. But I think what we hear when we do a survey of our citizens…number one is transportation. And if you add 200,000 people, that transportation issue becomes worse,” said Parrish.
Parrish also discussed how the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) has $1.5 billion to work on area transportation solutions in the coming years.
To accommodate an expected population increase in the coming years, Stewart offered a position on the empty space offered by the Rural Crescent in Prince William, calling for community “clustering”.
“One of the things we’re doing wrong is in regard to our Rural Crescent. There are a lot of families that have been holding that land – the land in the western part of this county – for decades, in fact, in some cases centuries…because of the zoning in the county, there’s one house for every ten acres. So now we have these massive tracts of land that are being built out on lots of ten acres in size. Too small to farm – too big to mow. A complete waste of space,” said Stewart.
Facilitator Mark Shaaber asked the panel about the future housing shortage that’s been discussed in other Chamber panels, and how the leaders expect to balance housing and commercial development.
“The millennials and those who are younger are looking for a smaller space…tiny houses…you can see a lot of people moving into this older housing – it’s actually more what they want. They don’t want the huge homes that are difficult to heat, difficult to air condition, difficult to maintain and clean…and that’s why we have to listen to the building community in particular and understand that it’s not what the Board of Supervisors thinks the market wants – it’s what the business community knows the market wants,” said Stewart, referencing an article citing Dale City as an affordable place to live.
Parrish feels that there’s currently a good mix of affordable housing in Manassas, and that the City still has room to grow in terms of development.
“I will say that the development versus infrastructure relationship is a delicate balance,” said Rishell.
In an off-the-cuff moment, Stewart offered an interesting viewpoint on the rise in 55+ retirement communities in the area.
“Seniors are cash cows…they produce revenue, but they consume almost nothing in terms of services, so we love them,” said Stewart.
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