After years of neglect under Supervisor Hilda Barg, Woodbridge has become a dysfunctional eyesore in Prince William County where vacant buildings compete with struggling junky retail shops and day labor sites along the Route One corridor to see which can make a community look the least attractive. In close proximity to the remarkable success of the Potomac Mills area, Route One is Prince William County’s community of failure. Supervisor Frank Principi has decided to take up the cause, and recently hosted a “charette” to bring various interest groups together to start laying out a plan for this troubled area, which he has released on his website. It’s an interesting read, especially when you start wondering what’s really behind the pretty powerpoint sales presentation that resulted.
You might wonder what a “charette” is, as I did. Abandoning what would undoubtably be a fruitless attempt to divine understanding by trying to figure out what this word is supposed to mean, I delved into the actual result for a more reliable answer. Despite the obscure terminology, what a “charette” is seems rather simple. You get together those folks who could stand to make a boatload of money, give them a captive audience of government functionaries and members of some citizens groups that didn’t seem to exist in any meaningful way prior to this exercise, and what you end up with is a developer’s dream master plan on how to profit from adversity, complete with “community buy-in.”
If there was money to be made in enforcing zoning regulations, we should have held one of these to combat residential overcrowding, as this is a terrific publicly-funded public relations effort for the benefit of some private entity that wants to do something. Sadly, the concentratd profit opportunity lies more in seeing the law not get enforced rather than ensuring it is. So here we are.
My definition of “charette” is that it is the sound of taxpayer dollars being whooshed together before they end up being sucked into someone else’s pockets. Shar-et. Most of us regular folks will never, ever hear that sound.
What this grand primo redevelopment plan appears to be is to transform North Woodbridge into something resembling the Market Common in Clarendon, or Carlysle Square in Arlington. Never mind that those developments happened because of a local economic opportunity and didn’t need some goverment-sponsored panel being led by the nose by developer interests to make them happen. It would seem the only way we’re going to get “Little Alexandria on Route One” is by government intervention, though. It’s sort of like a Soviet Five Year Plan for Woodbridge, with great public spaces just begging for the county to commission a handful of statutes of Vladimir Lenin, or to name after some undead elected official searching for immortality in the “Supervisor Sandbag’s Square of Pure Public Happiness (A Designated Starbucks Location)”.
No grand Plan Maximo can succeed however without the appropriate level of publicly-funded pedestrian bridges, traffic roundabouts, carefully-sited road narrowings and other area accoutrements that will properly set the stage for such a piece de resistance. That’s right, we’re going to create roundabouts. Apparently no one listening to that sweet “charette” sound has ever driven in New Jersey, where they’re diligently tearing these apart to establish rational road interchanges. To create the proper environment, we’re going to actually reduce road capacity through road narrowings, but that will supposedly work out OK since no one living in the New Soviet Woodbridge will want to drive cars when they can get around by VRE, ferries, green solar-powered robot driven rickshaws or be carried about by porters in royal processions.
The vision here is quite alluring, even if this hyper-luxury futuristic New Soviet Community will have the appropriate number of residential units designated as “affordable housing” as a salve to the anguish of helping a lot of priviledged wealthy people get a lot wealthier by creating an exclusive community for the wealthy. With the wave of the magic governmental wand and the infusion of untold quantities of taxpayer wealth, “North Woodbridge” will become the place to be, a green, eco-friendly, low-carbon “transit-oriented development” that will make liberal hearts go atwitter at the sight of stacking human beings up like cordwood in highly dense, concentrated areas where they are forced to grow dependent on government for everything. Gosh, it’s just so inspiring.
And no, this isn’t supposed to be anything like those high-rise public housing projects of the past, even if those folks depended almost entirely on public transit as well. Really.
I’m sure Plan Maximo is going to have a lot of fun winding it’s way through the various bodies that will have to wade through this glossy package to determine what the real story is underneath the pretty pictures. Hopefully some dedicated citizens will add to that joy by giving up some of their time with their families in order to attend planning commission hearings and board meetings to demonstrate what this really is all about, although they shouldn’t have to.
Had Frank Principi just withstood the urge to start rebuilding Woodbridge and instead tried clean up the problems that are keeping commerce and visitors out of this dump, Woodbridge residents and business owners would likely work this mess out on their own. As long as hordes of illegal alien day laborers squat on properties in the area, and help it look like a museum of third-world pestilence, no amount of Soviet planning is ever going to turn this sow’s ear into a golden purse.
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