- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2007

Prince William County is where quaint, historic towns filled with small shops, galleries and Early American architecture meet modern town centers, museums and luxury homes.

Prince William County is 30 miles south of Washington and bordered by Fairfax and Loudoun counties to the north and Stafford County to the south.

Dumfries, the largest town in the county, is also considered Virginia’s oldest town, with a charter dating to 1749.

County officials point to both a convenient location and a healthy economy as contributing to the area’s growing population. There were an estimated 131,731 housing units in Prince William County according to 2006 U.S. Census estimates. This represents growth by 33,680 units since 2000.

Within the past year, several companies and agencies have decided to relocate or expand their operations in Prince William.

The 200,000-square-foot Federal Bureau of Investigation Northern Virginia Resident Agency will open in November, and office parks, along with new mixed-use developments such as Potomac Center, Belmont Bay, Rippon Center and Harbor Station provide opportunities for county residents to live and work close to home, according to the annual report published recently by the Prince William County Department of Economic Development.

The Census Bureau’s 2005 American Community Survey showed that the year’s median household income in Prince William County was $89,634.

With commercial inventories at record levels, nearly 3 million new square feet of office, flexible and industrial space was added to the Prince William market in 2006, according to the economic development report. The business community recently welcomed such companies to the county as Assett Management Inc., which built a three-story office complex for its corporate headquarters. Also, George Mason University’s National Institutes of Health Regional Biomedical Research Lab and the Northern Virginia Forensics Lab are expected to begin construction this year.

Historic sites include the Weems-Botts Museum in Dumfries, which was once the home of Mason Lock Weems, the first biographer of George Washington. The Mill House Museum in Occoquan preserves the town’s early days as a 19th-century mill town. The Ben Lomond Historic Site & Old Rose Garden in Manassas did service as a hospital in the Civil War. Its gardens, at 5,200 square feet, are among the largest gardens of old roses in the United States.

Taking in the historic sites and abundant recreational activities is a must, says Liz Bahrns, communications director for Prince William County.

“We are home to Quantico Marine Corps Base and the National Museum of the Marine Corps; seven universities and colleges; Potomac National Minor League Baseball; Manassas Battlefield; 15 golf courses; the quaint towns of Occoquan, Haymarket, Quantico, and Dumfries; Leesylvania State Park with access to the Potomac River; Prince William Forest Park; and outdoor water parks in Manassas and Woodbridge,” Ms. Bahrns says.

However, the shopping mall at Potomac Mills is the most visited tourist attraction in Prince William County and continually ranks in the top 10 most visited tourist sites in Virginia.

The Department of Tourism states that the outlet mall greets more than 30 million visitors each year, followed by Manassas National Battlefield Park with 718,217 visitors yearly.

Recently added to the county’s attractions list is the impressive glass-atriumed, $90 million National Museum of the Marine Corps, which opened in November. This museum is quickly putting southern Prince William County on the map as a county landmark and tourist attraction.

Federal land accounts for about 18 percent of the total area of Prince William County, according to the county’s Office of Information Technology. This includes Quantico Marine Corps Base, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Prince William Forest Park, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge.

As government contractors seek locations to support the growing Quantico Marine Corps Systems Command, county officials say demand for office space near the Quantico area remains strong.

“Residents are able to enjoy a location that is equally convenient to both the Quantico Marine Base and Fort Belvoir,” Ms. Bahrns says. “There is a lot of redevelopment sprouting up on both sides of Route 1 and around the Potomac River.”

One of those developments, Harbor Station, is helping revive the Potomac riverfront and will bring Prince William a luxury hotel and conference center in 2008 as part of the new riverfront town center and marina development.

This mixed-use community on the Potomac River in the eastern portion of the county will include the Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, a championship golf course that the developer, Kettler, formerly KSI Services Inc., says will use the rolling hills of the Cherry Hill Peninsula with strategically placed bunkers, water features and preserved nature valley.

This area also will feature residential property along with a town center, schools, a Virginia Railway Express (VRE) station, proposed marina and 2 million square feet for office, retail and civic development.

“The county has an excellent school system, low crime rate and a community that embraces families,” Ms. Bahrns says. “We haven’t stopped growing.”

Two more hotels are planned at Belmont Bay, a residential, recreational and retail community in Woodbridge. County officials say more than 200,000 square feet of prime waterfront office space will be built there.

Last year, Belmont Bay witnessed the groundbreaking on the Catholic Diocese of Arlington’s fourth diocesan high school, the first to be built in more than two decades. The school is slated to open for the 2008-09 academic year and will accommodate up to 1,000 students.

The new Belmont Bay Science Center is being built near the Occoquan and Potomac rivers within the new Belmont Bay Town Center development. This center will have exhibition galleries and focus on technology, physical sciences and life sciences.

Belmont Bay is a community made up primarily of town homes and condominiums of varying sizes. The River Club at Belmont Bay is a Comstock Homebuilding Cos. Inc. community of condominiums with views of the Ospreys championship golf course, the river and surrounding wetlands. Centex Homes also will be building in the planned community.

Speaking of golf, the tourism department says the county is home to one of the top 50 courses for women at Stonewall Golf Club at Lake Manassas in Gainesville, so named by Golf for Women magazine in 2005.

The county also is home to Old Dominion Speedway.

Prince William has a variety of available housing types and styles. Many are considered more affordable than those found in some neighboring counties.

The Washington Metro Builders’ Realty Council says this is true particularly in the southern and southwestern sections of Prince William.

“What attracts buyers to Prince William County is that the pricing is perceived to be lower and they can get more house for the dollar,” says Cindy Stackhouse of Century 21 Stackhouse & Associates real estate.

However, she says this trend is changing because of growing demand in the area. Buyers are “finding prices in many cases are not that much cheaper,” she says.

Ms. Stackhouse points more to lifestyle and family-friendly neighborhoods as county selling points.

“Our schools and quality of life [are] a draw to the county,” Ms. Stackhouse says. “Prince William County captures the more rural feeling of neighborhoods, parks, nature trails and green space. There are new subdivisions on both ends of the county. Woodbridge is going through a major rebirth, all the way to Stafford and across the county to Haymarket and Gainesville.”

Port Potomac in Woodbridge is an upscale planned community offering town homes and single-family houses. Once it is completed, the focal point of the neighborhood will be the grand community center styled after the Governor’s Palace in Colonial Williamsburg.

Amenities in the neighborhood will include an athletic club, children’s center, indoor and outdoor pools, an amphitheater, village shops and ponds.

Ryan Homes is building luxury town homes and single-family houses in Port Potomac that range in price from the low $400,000s to close to $600,000.

M/I Homes Inc. has single-family houses in the area in the mid-$500,000s. Engle Homes, Drees Homes Co., NVHomes and Sorensen Homes also are building new homes at Port Potomac.

D.R. Horton Inc. is just about finished building homes in the Ellis Plantation community in Manassas, featuring luxury homes on 1- to 2-acre homesites where prices start in the high $700,000s.

Heritage Hunt is a new active adult community in Gainesville that offers single-family homes, duplexes and condominiums. The community includes a championship 18-hole golf course, tennis facilities and pool. Many of the homes have mountain views.

In southeastern Prince William County, older homes are available in towns such as Quantico, but real estate professionals agree that the market for resale homes is still brisk.

Residents in Prince William County appreciate the well-planned mixture of old and new. Prospective buyers can look forward to living in a stable community with exciting developments.

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