August 29, 2011
Harbor Station developer ready to move forward
By Jennifer Buske
The Washington Post
A California-based developer that plans to breathe life into a stalled development off Prince William County’s blighted Route 1 corridor wrapped up a two-week visit to the area Monday.
SunCal Cos., which recently purchased a 1,920-acre lot on the county’s Cherry Hill Peninsula, wants to build Harbor Station – a mixed-use town center and golf course community that has been planned for years but has failed to come to fruition.
“I’m really happy this is happening, because there has been disappointment here before,” said Prince William Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries), who began representing Harbor Station when her district was redrawn following the 2010 Census. “Nothing will happen overnight, but I think the fact we have a good working relationship with them is half the battle.”
A portion of the mostly forested tract of riverfront land was rezoned for development in 2001 and then again in 2006 – the last time for a bigger luxury town center with up to 4,000 homes, a marina and a Jack Nicklaus golf course.
Developer Robert C. Kettler had a grand vision for the property that fit into the county’s plan to turn a portion of Prince William’s rundown eastern end dotted with strip malls and vacant buildings into a pristine community.
Then the recession hit.
The market for the development wasn’t there, and the financial backers of the project couldn’t pay their bills, county officials said. The property was headed into foreclosure but instead went into the hands of a court-appointed receiver.
Kettler had funneled about $200 million into the project. He had built the golf course, which remains closed, and a network of roadways that is waiting to be surrounded with development.
It was this preliminary work, and the site’s location to the Potomac River, that attracted SunCal to the property, said Casey Tischer, vice president of land acquisitions for SunCal.
“The beauty of the site and the entitlements – those things don’t come together very often,” Tischer said. “We also like the opportunity to be in the D.C. market, and we like the dynamics of Prince William. I think there is a lot of opportunity there.”
Tischer said that he would like to have construction underway within a year but that SunCal is still evaluating the best build-out for the project, because it will all be market-driven. This is SunCal’s first investment in the Washington area, and company officials are forming a team that will stay out east to move the project forward.
“We invested because we felt this project has a lot of viability,” Tischer said, adding that SunCal wouldn’t have bought the property if officials didn’t see Harbor Station becoming a reality. “We think this project is an important component to the build out of Prince William and the region.”
Harbor Station would sit on one of the last pieces of undeveloped land along the Potomac and would be the catalyst needed for redevelopment in the eastern end, county officials said. It is the largest approved development in Prince William still waiting to be built.
The original Harbor Station plan called for up to 4,000 residential units, 3.7 million square feet of commercial space, a marina, hotel, golf course and a new Virginia Railway Express station.
Because Harbor Station is an approved project, SunCal can move forward to some extent without going before supervisors, Tischer said. He added that he would probably approach the board to make some changes because the plans were approved so long ago.
The VRE station, which is part of the commuter-rail system’s long-term plan, would be funded by SunCal, state and federal funds, Tischer said. Although it looks complete, the golf course needs some upgrades. SunCal will probably not open the golf course until the first phase of the development is ready to open, he said.
“I think this can be a landmark community,” Tischer said, “and we plan to do what we need to to make it a reality.”