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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Saturday, January 28, 2006

GOP offers reform bills; B1

Transportation, growth are topics among provisions

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

Republicans in the House of Delegates rolled out more of the reform portion of the transportation package Friday.

But a key provision sought by the Kaine administration and local governments that would allow local governments to stop rezonings that would over-burden roads wasn’t included.

House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Fredericksburg, along with Del. Clay Athey, R-Front Royal, and others introduced the bills at a press conference in the temporary capitol Friday morning.

“Too many people have assumed that the only answer to crowded highways and secondary roads is the construction of still more roads with no real way to include local governments in these decisions,” Howell said later in an e-mail to reporters. “We can and must do better.”

House leaders have said they’re working up a transportation plan comparable to those introduced by Kaine and the Senate, but they want to make changes to local land-use laws and the Virginia Department of Transportation before they bring additional revenue into the equation.

Both Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine and the upper house have introduced plans that would raise about $1 billion annually over the next four years for transportation via taxes and fees.

Two of the five House bills offered, both by Athey, bring some money into the equation.

House Bill 1506 lowers the threshold for local governments to begin accepting voluntary proffers from developers.

Current law only allows those cities, counties and towns that have had a 10 percent census-to-census growth take the donations. Athey’s bill drops that number to 5 percent, expanding the number which qualify from 254 to 324.

House Bill 1104 expands a VDOT “revenue sharing” program that lets local governments match government money to pay for their own transportation projects. Athey’s bill allows governments to use proffers as their matching funds.

“We’ve been looking for something that we could move through the General Assembly that would assist localities while they are making these decisions,” Athey said.

“This also reflects a commitment on the part of the Republican Caucus that as we craft a transportation solution, we need to move a lot of these decisions out to localities,” he added.

But there’s not a GOP consensus to give more authority to turn down rezonings based on transportation issues. As of late as last week, some Republicans said they thought such a bill was all but a certainty.

“I think most of us are in agreement that it’s long since time” for such a law, said Del. Joe May, R-Leesburg, earlier this week.

Local governments like Frederick County have long sought an adequate public facilities ordinance that would let them say no to development based on school overcrowding or traffic issues.

Kaine pledged his support to a limited version of such a law in his first State of the Commonwealth address.

“I will propose a bill clarifying existing law so that localities are able to reject rezoning requests if a proposed new development would overwhelm the transportation network,” he told legislators.

Such a measure may come forward from a Republican, but it won’t be a major push by the entire caucus, according to Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Howell.

“Those are the bills we feel have the support to make it out of the House of Delegates,” he said. “We have a consensus” on the package of bills that was introduced Friday.

Even without the zoning veto, local government lobbyists say they support the package.

“This is a significant effort to enable local governments to responsibly deal with growth, particularly as it relates to transportation,” said Mark Flynn of the Virginia Municipal League.

Flynn and a representative of the Virginia Association of Counties were both on hand for the policy announcement.

The package is made up of House Bills 1521, 1513, 1528, 1506 and 1104.