Monday, December 2, 2013

The Fate of Our Rural Crescent

On Saturday, December 7th 2013 there will be an open house and all day series or meetings at George Mason University, Prince William Campus in Manassas. This link has the information, agenda and maps if you wish to attend any part of the meeting. If you live in Prince William you should attend. This meeting is to discuss the results of the County Planning Department study of the County's rural preservation policies, an evaluation of their effectiveness, identifying additional rural preservation tools that may be appropriate and effective, and recommendations for amendments to the County's land use planning policies. This meeting will layout the intended fate of our Rural Crescent an extraordinary valuable resource to the county watershed and property owners.

We arrived at this point because of a request made at the regular March 2012 meeting of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. While considering requests for exceptions to the comprehensive plan, Supervisor Martin Nohe supported by the other county Supervisors felt that it was time to reconsider some of the planning and development decisions that had been made in the past and asked for the Planning Office staff to produce an analysis of the usefulness of the Rural Crescent in achieving the stated goals of protecting rural character and open space, and whether policy adjustments or new policies would do a better job. The request was made by Supervisor Nohe to Prince William County staff and noted in the minutes. Later funds were allocated to hire a consultant and regular reports have been made to the County Supervisors.

Preservation of the rural nature of the county has a long history in Prince William. In 1964, a planning study was conducted for the County and recommended a Comprehensive Plan that identified a significant portion of the County as "Large Estate and Agricultural." The preservation goals for this area became more formalized through designation of the Rural Area in the 1998 Comprehensive Plan that created the 80,000 acre Rural Crescent. Since that time the Rural Crescent has been chipped away at with exception requests every year. Higher density development means money to developers and landowners. There is much passion when money is on the table. The Rural Crescent in Prince William County was originally intended as an urban growth boundary for the county designed to preserve our agricultural heritage and force development along the Route 1 corridor rather than Greenfield development in the remaining rural areas.

Maintaining the emphasis on redevelopment of areas with preexisting infrastructure would allow Prince William County to improve storm water management, achieve nutrient and sediment reductions for the EPA mandated TMDL, revitalize older areas of the county and preserve the Greenfields. The Rural Crescent may have started with different intentions; but today the Rural Crescent is about water, groundwater and ecosystem preservation. However, it is also about where we live and who we are.

I took the time to read the responses to the internet-based survey run by the consultants hired by the county to actually perform the study. Over the summer the consultants had a survey running on SurveyMonkey. Though the participation was low with only 386 self-selected participants, the participants took the time for comments. And though there was diversity in opinion, the comments reminded me that spending a weekend day at Yankey Farms to select a pumpkin for Halloween or picking berries in the warm weather, going to Evergreen Farms to get your Christmas tree, or La Grange Winery for a glass of wine or picnic is part of the charm of living in Prince William County. Engage with your community, attend the meeting.

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