Proposed changes to proffers worry Fairfax Co. leaders

WASHINGTON — Limits on the proffers developers are required to pay local governments before building new homes are moving through the General Assembly. And while some tweaks have been made to address concerns from many counties, Fairfax is still concerned.

The still-changing bills would place new restrictions on proffers that would limit requirements to only the costs specifically attributable to the new development, rather than costs that are reasonably related. The bills also give home builders the right go to court to challenge proffers that they believe to be too onerous under the new standard.

Proffers are often used to pay or provide for all or parts of schools, parks, roads, libraries or other community amenities.

Fairfax County is among the localities most vocally opposing the bill, and Supervisor Jeff McKay says many others across the state are joining in opposition, too.

“I met with the patron of the House bill, Del. [Todd] Gilbert from the Shenandoah Valley, who expressed not a full understanding of the way proffers work in Fairfax County, and so it was quite a good meeting and he was open to looking in further to the bill to make it less intrusive to the county, and specifically didn’t understand how proffers worked in Northern Virginia,” McKay said during a legislative update to the Board of Supervisors this week.

The House of Delegates bill passed 68–27 with two abstentions on Feb. 4. The Senate bill passed 29–8 with two abstentions Feb. 9.

On Friday, a House committee made changes to the Senate version of the bill and sent it to the full House of Delegates on a 17–4 vote.

McKay and other Fairfax County supervisors say they are still working to get amendments made.

Delegate Todd Gilbert said during debate on his bill that it was still a work in progress, but that it strikes a balance for homebuilders and counties.

“It restores some equity, some fairness,” he said on the House floor. “It levels the playing field in the area of the ability of folks to build affordable housing in Virginia. It sort of restores the original intent of the proffer system, if you will, which was to identify the actual costs associated with a new housing development: things that were essential public services. Things like schools, like roads, public police and fire-type rescue services.”

McKay and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova met with Gov. Terry McAuliffe about the bill and describe him as “receptive to the county’s concerns.”

The county hopes the bill will, instead, direct a study of potential proffer changes, or, at the very least, exempt Fairfax from the requirements.

The bills do now include some exemptions for high-density development near Metro stations.

“It looks like Swiss cheese where amendments would apply and the new law would not apply, and it really just creates confusion and is not helpful for economic development or for good development in Fairfax County or other places,” Bulova said.

Supervisor Linda Smyth said that some developers have concerns with the process.

“We need to sit down and talk about it. But what they’ve come up with is frankly unworkable because we’re not even sure what it says,” she says.

Del. Lionell Spruill said that the costs of proffers are passed on to homebuyers when they purchase a home, so lowering them could lower initial home prices.

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