Faith Schweikert

A Conservation Journey in Madison County

A Conservation Journey in Madison County

Carolyn Smith’s Madison County property has been on quite the journey since her parents first purchased the former cattle operation in 1965. Donating a 129-acre conservation easement in late 2023 came on the heels of decades of successful land stewardship by Carolyn, her parents, and a community of partners who have worked to restore and repair the land for wildlife habitat, pollinators and native plants.

Join Us for a Community Meeting in Charlottesville

Join Us for a Community Meeting in Charlottesville

The following text was sent out via email on January 24, 2023. Sign up for PEC email alerts →

Data center in Ashburn location. Photo by Hugh Kenny/PEC. View the video, “The Hidden Costs of the Cloud: Data Centers in Virginia”.

Dear Supporter,

You might have heard some of the recent buzz about data centers and surging electricity demand. We invite you to attend a community meeting to talk about potential impacts on our community and on the state’s ability to meet its climate goals Tuesday, February 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in Charlottesville, Va.

The explosive growth of this energy-intensive sector, the only growing sector of electricity demand in Virginia, is requiring historic expansions of our energy grid and will thwart our ability to get off of fossil fuels – all of which will likely be funded by Virginia ratepayers like yourself. 

We’ll also share what we’ve learned about the potential for new transmission line projects proposed in our area, especially the proposed “wreck and rebuild” expanded transmission line through Albemarle and Charlottesville (mapped below), as well as new power generation – and prolongation of dirty legacy sources – to supply the projected demand.

This sweeping project will cross through and impact scores of community neighborhoods and schools from Gordonsville and Charlottesville to Crozet and Waynesboro, parcels of permanently conserved land, the Historic Southwest Mountains, the Historic Greenwood-Afton area, Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive, several Albemarle County parks including McIntire and Darden Towe Parks, and the treasured views of the mountains throughout. 

The unprecedented development proposed for our state will erase hard-won conservation and climate gains in Virginia, on top of the local impacts. We are working to develop solutions to this new challenge for Albemarle and beyond.

Map of potential new transmission line projects as of Oct. 16, 2023. Zoom in for specific properties. Credit Watsun Randolph/PEC

Space is limited, so please register in advance for this significant and timely conversation. I hope to see you there!

All the best,

Faith Schweikert
Communications & Policy Fellow
(434) 977-2033 x7026

Winter Updates from Albemarle & Charlottesville

Winter Updates from Albemarle & Charlottesville

The following text was sent out via email on December 20, 2023. Sign up for PEC email alerts →

Photo by October Greenfield/PEC

Dear Supporter,

We hope you will soon be logging off and, like the black bears and chipmunks, taking a winter reprieve. Whether you are hibernating at home in the Piedmont or migrating south or somewhere else for the winter, we wish you a happy holiday season.

Before you go, we’re happy to share with you a few major conservation, land use, and trails updates worth celebrating, plus some impactful projects we’ll be focused on in 2024 and beyond. We hope you’ll support our efforts in the new year by becoming a member as we continue to work towards our mission of protecting and restoring the lands and waters of the Virginia Piedmont, while building stronger, more sustainable communities.

Protecting the Southern Shenandoah Borderlands

Skyline Drive snakes northward through the narrow bend of Shenandoah National Park, with adjacent private private lands behind. Efforts are underway to widen the corridor of protected land with permanent conservation easements. Photo by Hugh Kenny/PEC

For the past several years, we’ve been developing a landscape-scale forestland conservation project by working with multiple landowners adjacent to Shenandoah National Park in Albemarle County. This spring, that project was awarded grant funds through the federal Forest Legacy Program, which will help us permanently protect over 4,300 acres adjacent to the park. 

Now, we’re working hard to take the project a step further to conserve more land by applying for a second round of Forest Legacy funding. If the grant is awarded, we can add 767 more acres of permanently protected forestland along this boundary of Shenandoah National Park, bringing the total to over 5,000 acres conserved.

This work to expand the landscape of protected lands in the Appalachian corridor is a national and global conservation priority, with implications for climate resiliency, watershed protection, biodiversity conservation, and additional scenic and recreational public benefits.

AC44 Continues with Win for the Rural Area

Albemarle County’s Rural Area isn’t vacant, as maps of the Development Areas often show it to be.This map shows the opposite, highlighting its conserved land, water resources, rural communities, and historical and scenic designations. Map by Watsun Randolph/PEC

In our last email about Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan update, we told you that we are fervently advocating for seven recommendations to be adopted into the current draft. In a major first step, and after a year of effort and community engagement, the County has made a change that aligned with our first recommendation! There will be a dedicated chapter for rural area planning, which brings it in line with widely held public opinion that Albemarle’s agricultural and natural landscapes, as well as the unique rural communities that exist there, are worth conserving.

Three decades of community survey results and recent feedback specifically related to the AC44 Comprehensive Plan have consistently revealed, with great clarity, that a majority of Albemarle residents highly value and want to prioritize the County’s Rural Area. 

Planning will continue through 2024, with opportunities for citizens to voice their concerns and opinions throughout. This plan impacts every aspect of life in the County and will serve as the guidelines for decisions that are made about the community in the future. Stay up to date by signing up for AC44 updates.  

New Signs Show Fifeville’s Changing Landscape

One of two new historic signs on the Fifeville Community Trail. You can learn more about the trail and read the signs at Photo by Peter Krebs/PEC

Charlottesville is layered with rich and complicated history. Evidence of ways the landscape has changed is visible along the Fifeville Community Trail, and some of its stories are now highlighted by two new interpretative signs that PEC produced with support from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. These signs combine our community partners’ careful archival research with resident interviews in a beautiful, easily understood format. 

One of the signs reveals that what is now a green oasis was once an industrial operation (a brick manufacture). The other shows how Fifth Street was relocated and enlarged during Urban Renewal. That led to both an expanded park and the loss of several homes. This happened during the lifetime of many area residents and we believe it important that stories like these be memorialized.

The Fifeville Trail is truly the fruit of community leadership — and of their sweat equity. Speaking of which, we hope you’ll join a community work party, led by the Rivanna Trails Foundation and PEC, to maintain and improve the trail on Saturday, Jan. 13 at 9 a.m. at Tonsler Park. 

Looking Ahead to 2024

PEC is vigilantly looking toward the future in our work, in preserving the land, the intentional planning of towns and communities, and using our knowledge of land use and environmental threats within our region to anticipate what lies ahead locally, in our nine-county service area, and in other regions of the Commonwealth.

Data Centers

Supporters at the Virginia Data Center Reform Coalition press conference. Photo by Hugh Kenny/PEC

In the Virginia Piedmont, one looming threat is the proliferation of data centers — the physical structures that store the digital world — and the energy infrastructure they will require. The explosive growth of the data center industry represents a major challenge to achieving a clean energy future as they require extraordinary amounts of power and utilize dozens of back up diesel generators per building. The massive buildings and associated electrical infrastructure also place a heavy burden not only on our land, water, and community resources but also will impact the electric bill of Virginia ratepayers as transmission lines and generation facilities are folded into everyone’s bills.

To serve exploding data center demand in Dominion’s utility area, the electrical transmission grid operator, PJM, has moved a plan to expand an existing transmission line running through Albemarle County and Charlottesville forward. Dominion will assess its final engineering and design and then the Virginia State Corporation Commission will likely approve it. In light of this, PEC will be holding a Energy Infrastructure and Data Center Community Meeting to share more about data centers and their impacts on energy demand and land use in late January.

Rivanna Futures

Albemarle County is acquiring 462 acres of land along the east side of Route 29 North adjacent to Rivanna Station, the home of three federal defense intelligence agencies, with the goals of retaining those Department of Defense installations and expanding the private defense sector in the community – called Rivanna Futures.

An initiative with such goals will most certainly have major land use, transportation, and infrastructure implications for the County and its residents, especially for the eight-mile stretch of U.S. 29 going up to the southern edge of Greene County. As we learn more about the Rivanna Futures project, we will continue to update you on ways to advocate for smart growth and resource protections.

Virginia’s Research Triangle

Last but not least, following last week’s groundbreaking for  U.Va’s Manning Institute for Biotechnology, Governor Youngkin announced that a network of research institutions will be established between the University in Charlottesville, Virginia Tech’s Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in Roanoke, and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medicines for All Institute. The announcement emphasized the desire for increased commercialization between the three cities, similar to North Carolina’s Research Triangle. We’ll be focused on the wider implications for land use, smart growth planning, transportation, infrastructure, and natural resources in our community in the coming months and years.

Contributions like yours make our work in Albemarle and Charlottesville possible. Give the gift of membership this holiday season, become a monthly sustaining member or donate today to support the protection, restoration, and planning work of our locally-based staff.

Thank you! Until next year,

Faith Schweikert
Communications & Policy Fellow
(434) 977-2033 x7026

Albemarle County AC44 Comprehensive Plan Policy Platform: Suggested Talking Points | 27 Oct. 2023

Albemarle County AC44 Comprehensive Plan Policy Platform: Suggested Talking Points | 27 Oct. 2023

Contact: Rob McGinnis –, (434) 962-9110

The AC44 Comprehensive Plan update will serve as a guiding document for Albemarle County for the years 2024-2044. It will define the County’s priorities for protecting and enhancing natural and historic resources, providing housing and transportation options, supporting the local economy, and much more. As such, it will have a significant impact on residents’ daily lives and the future of their communities. The County has committed to equity and climate action, goals The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) broadly supports and hopes will be fully and intentionally integrated into this Comprehensive Plan. The following are PEC’s current priority policy recommendations for the update.

1. Include a Rural Area chapter.

Three decades of community survey results and recent feedback from public engagement specifically related to the AC44 Comprehensive Plan have consistently revealed, with great clarity, that a majority of County residents understand and want to prioritize the County’s Rural Area. The County has done this in the past two comprehensive plans with the inclusion of a Rural Area chapter, and should do so again in this update. A separate chapter is required to address the complex interrelationships of natural and cultural resources unique to Albemarle’s rural communities.

2. Include a strong recommendation for the creation of a Rural Area Plan.

A Rural Area Plan is a master plan that provides a long-term vision for sustaining working farms and forests, natural resource protection, thriving communities, historic preservation, outdoor recreation, and tourism. It must be comprehensive, include mapping, and be informed by significant public engagement to implement the AC44 Rural Area policies. Intentional planning for the Rural Area can be a strong opportunity to protect all the values of the Rural Area and its communities.

3. Include a recommendation for the establishment of a Development Areas Task Force to address the obstacles to accommodating projected growth in the current Development Areas.

The County should create a task force to seek out and implement proactive solutions to the challenges faced when accommodating projected growth in the current Development Areas. The County must analyze whether the existing Development Areas are achieving a mix of uses, higher density, walkability, redevelopment, accommodation of growth, and accessible quality open spaces before it considers any expansion of those Development Areas.

4. Avoid mapping of future Development Area expansions.

Mapping future expansion of Development Areas is ill-advised and would likely lead to the acceleration of land speculation and its associated negative impacts, such as rising land prices, higher housing costs, and unnecessary expansion of infrastructure and services. There is a real danger that mapping could spur premature expansion by drawing attention away from currently feasible strategies that direct growth into the Development Areas.

5. The proposed future small area plans for the I-64/US250 Yancey and I-64/US250 Shadwell interchanges should be limited to the land areas near the interchanges.

Limiting future small area plan study areas to exclude the US250 corridor west of the Yancey interchange and the US250 corridor east of the Shadwell interchange is necessary to avoid inappropriate development extending into the Rural Area.

6.  The Environmental Stewardship chapter should include strong recommendations for a consistent and dedicated funding source for the land conservation and purchase of development rights (PDR) programs.

To protect Albemarle’s water resources and drinking water supplies, as well as the rural areas where they originate, and to support key priorities of biodiversity conservation and climate action, the County must accelerate and increase funding support and staffing capacity for its land conservation and purchase of development rights (PDR) programs.

7. The Historic, Scenic, and Cultural Resources chapter should include strong recommendations for an updated Historic Preservation Plan and a Historic Preservation Ordinance.

The County should pursue proactive measures, programs, and regulations to better protect Albemarle’s historic, scenic, and cultural resources – specifically the cultural landscapes, districts, sites, and buildings that contribute to the rural quality of life and support our local economy.

Ways to Get Involved

  • Submit Comments in Writing: Public comments should be sent to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors at and the Planning Commission at Note that when sending an email to the Board of Supervisors, the County Executive is also receiving your email.
  • Attend a Work Session or Meeting: Showing up in person demonstrates to elected officials that their citizens are paying attention to the decisions that impact them.
  • Speak Up: Citizens can speak for three minutes at the start of every Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission meeting to have their voices heard.
  • Stay Informed and Engaged: This is a long process that has the potential to impact every facet of life in Albemarle County for the next 20 years. Sign up for PEC’s AC44 email alerts, the County’s Engage updates, and review PEC’s AC44 Comprehensive Plan Policy Platform and Climate Action Plan at