Thursday, March 22, 2012

Board Vote Stops Mid-County Project in the Prince William Rural Crescent

On Tuesday, March 20th, 2012 at their regular meeting the Prince William County Board of Supervisors voted on the 2012 Annual Comprehensive Plan Amendments that were submitted to the planning office this past January. There were six changes in zoning requested, only two of the requests that appeared to fit within the long term goals of the comprehensive plan had the staff recommendation for approval: the New Dominion Square and Bradley Square both in the Coles District. These were requests to change from community employment center to building townhouses and included the redevelopment of the speedway property. However, the Mid-County Park and Estate Homes request for a rezoning in the Rural Crescent (also in the Coles District) was stopped by the motion and presentation of Supervisor Nohe and the support of the majority of the BOCS. This project would have effectively removed this property from the Rural Crescent to increase density from 33 homes to 104 single-family homes connected to the public sewer system, but would have also created 195 acres of public open space. The project had received considerable publicity and raised passions on both sides as evidenced by the citizens comments earlier in the meeting.

The plan for long range land use in Prince William County is designed to develop employment centers in the community, revitalize the Route 1 corridor, preserve the rural areas and areas of environmental sensitivity including lands regulated under the Chesapeake Bay Protection Act and preserve our existing neighborhoods. In short the comprehensive plan is really a forward looking document for sustainable development that needs to continue to evolve over time. Prince William has learned from Fairfax, Alexandria and Arlington to carefully plan the growth of our community. The Supervisors seemed to feel that it was time to reconsider some of the planning and development decisions that had been made in the past and asked for additional study as the best way to achieve employment, transportation and open space goals of the county, asking for analysis of the usefulness of the Rural Crescent in achieving those goals and the future of the last contiguous large (864 acre) parcel in the development area of the western half of the county.

In the next several years the county will have to find ways to meet the ever tightening requirements under the Virginia Watershed Implementation Plan for the mandated Chesapeake Bay TMDL and we need to make sure that there will be adequate drinking water for the county. The first half of sustainable development is the redevelopment of the Brownfields along the Route 1 corridor rather than Greenfield development in rural areas where there is no existing infrastructure as highlighted by Supervisor Nohe’s presentations. Redevelopment along Route 1 would help Prince William County to reduce storm water damage by instituting storm water management in locations where storm water management is inadequate (and score nutrient reduction points under the Watershed Implementation Plan) as well as revitalize these older areas of the county. This redevelopment would take place without significantly increasing pavement and impervious surfaces. The second portion of sustainable development is to ensure adequate water for our county now and in the future. Preserving the open land in the Rural Crescent is essential to sustainable development of Prince William County. According to the EPA, in order to maintain the natural hydrology the impervious cover of a region must remain below 10%.

The Rural Crescent in Prince William County aligns roughly with the Mesozoic basin aquifer of the Culpeper groundwater basin, one of the more important watersheds in Virginia. The rocks of the Culpeper basin are highly fractured and overlain by a thin cover of overburden. These sedimentary rocks are productive aquifers and feed not only the groundwater wells that provide drinking water to Manassas and other communities, but also feeds the tributaries to Bull Run and the Potomac. The fractured rock system that is so rich in water is also our weakness; there is no natural attenuation in a fractured system so that the groundwater as a drinking water resource can be easily contaminated without any real ability to recover. Any malfunctioning septic system, underground fuel storage tank, improper disposal, improperly managed horse property or hobby farm or hazardous spill on any property within this area has the potential to impact the drinking water wells to the south, southeast or east. Development and improper use in this area introduces potential sources of contamination that could never (in our lifetimes) be remediated. In addition, ground cover, roads and pavement will impact recharge of the groundwater reducing the total amount of water available.

A small portion of Prince William County is located within the Coastal Plain and should serve as a warning to us of what happens if you do not protect your watershed and its recharge zone. The Coastal Plain of Virginia is composed mostly of unconsolidated geologic deposits and extends from the Atlantic coast to the “fall zone” a geological line that runs north-south through Fairfax, Fredericksburg, Richmond, and Petersburg along Route 95. There are two groundwater systems, an unconfined aquifer and a lower artesian aquifer both flow in the general direction of the topography slope towards the ocean. The fall zone was the area of recharge for the artesian aquifer, it was the geologic area where the earth folded and the lower mostly isolated artesian aquifer reached the surface and could be recharged with rainfall. By building Route 95 along the fall zone and developing the adjacent areas Virginia essentially paved over a significant portion of the recharge zone for the artesian groundwater aquifer-permanently reducing water supply while increasing water demand. In addition, poor storm water management in older developed areas has created a significant erosion and sediment problem in the Quantico Watershed, for example, where on-site stormwater capture and retention needs to be beefed up and repaired, and the streams need debris removal, channel restoration or enhancements, and riparian buffer restoration to stabilize the watershed.

The county may be moving towards reevaluating the zoning and land use decisions made at the end of the 20th century when the Rural Crescent was created. Owners of large tracks of land within the Rural Crescent feel (and rightly so) that limitations on development reduce land values. Many residents of the area spoke of the quality of life. The groundwater and watershed must always be considered because without water there is no property value. On any request to amend the Comprehensive Plan the Board of County Supervisors, BOCS, has the discretion to vote to initiate, initiate with a different study area, do not initiate or take no action. After citizen comments, staff presentations the BOCS discussed the proposals within the entire the land use plan and the county goals then voted to:

A. Do Not Initiate, the change of the Comprehensive Plan Amendment #PLN2012-00224 Stone Haven, but to initiate another Planning Study of the Stone Haven Project Area within the Brentsville Magisterial District with community outreach and input to determine the best use of this land and additional acreage owned by the same entity that could be the site of the needed new high school in the western end of the county. These 337 acres were proposed to convert from industrial to residential and the BOCS recalling community reaction to an industrial project that had been considered years ago felt that compatible use and community needs should be carefully considered before any decision is made for this property.
B. Do Not Initiate – Comprehensive Plan Amendment #PLN2012-00225, that would have allowed the building of 104 clustered homes within the Rural Crescent and have those homes hooked up to the sanitary sewer system for a development called Mid-County Park and Estate Homes and place the 77 acres that are resource protect area, RPA, under the Chesapeake Bay Protection Act) and an additional 62 acres and place them as permanent open space. Supervisor Martin Nohe argued to keep the boundaries of the Rural Crescent and the BOCS voted to support him. However, Supervisor Nohe further suggested that the BOCS examine the Rural Crescent policy the tools available to achieve the county environmental goals and maintain open space. The staff was charged with examining whether maintaining the Rural Crescent as is was in conformance with the open space goals of the county and what were the results of the policy after 14 years.
C. & D. Initiate. Comprehensive Plan Amendment #PLN2012-00226, New Dominion Square and Comprehensive Plan Amendment #PLN2012-00228, Bradley Square were voted to be combined and Initiated with an expanded study area both projects are located in the Coles Magisterial District. They were appropriately viewed as combined and related. The Dominion Square is a Brownfield redevelopment of the speedway and use of the Bradley Square is impacted by the use and redevelopment of the speedway property.
E. Withdrawn. Comprehensive Plan Amendment #PLN2012-00227, Wheeler Estate Property was withdrawn. This property is located within the Gainesville Magisterial District and had been recommended by staff to not be initiated. It would have represented a change from flexible employment to residential eliminating a significant number of jobs and adding commuter traffic on Route 66.
F. Initiate. Comprehensive Plan Amendment #PLN2012-00229, Bell Property which is adjacent to the Rural Crescent leaving the RPA area undeveloped and developing the SRR planned area for 55+ housing. The staff had recommended “Do Not Initiate,” but Supervisor Candland of the Gainesville Magisterial District where the property is located supported the development and argued persuasively to move forward and the majority of the BOCS voted with him.
G. Initiate. Comprehensive Plan Amendment #PLN2012-00301 the addition of Five Properties as County-Registered Historic Sites in the Cultural Resource Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan was voted to initiate without much discussion. The properties are located within the Gainesville and Brentsville Magisterial Districts.

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