The following text was sent out via email on March 31 2023. Sign up for PEC email alerts →
Thank you to everyone who attended last Thursday’s public hearing on Wilderness Crossing (REZ 22-03). More than 200 people attended, and of the 30 who spoke, all but one urged the County to deny this highly speculative and impactful proposal.
The Planning Commission heard from neighbors in Lake of the Woods and Unionville and from just across Wilderness Run in Spotsylvania County. They heard from the American Battlefield Trust, Friends of the Rappahannock, the National Park Conservation Association, and The Piedmont Environmental Council. They heard from a retired EPA scientist, a retired National Park Service historian and a former Ernst & Young economist. The turnout was inspiring, the speakers were passionate, and it was clear that Orange County residents are paying attention and have serious, wide-ranging concerns with this proposal. The Commission also received 685 written comments ahead of the hearing!
Following the public hearing, the Commission voted to defer a decision on Wilderness Crossing until its April 6 meeting, in order to give the applicant time to respond to community concerns and to specific questions from commissioners.
Still too many open questions and not enough information.
In light of the broad consensus that this proposal is too speculative and short on details, we were disappointed to learn that the Board of Supervisors has refused a request by at least one commissioner for an independent economic analysis. Why, when contemplating the largest rezoning in County history, would our Board of Supervisors rely solely on the applicant’s own word and analysis?
In a similar vein, a commissioner asked the Board to allow at least one commissioner (of the Board’s choosing) to sign onto the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with the prospective data center developer to learn the details of the industrial uses being considered. That request was also denied. We generally do not like NDAs because they inherently frustrate the public’s right to a transparent process. In this case, it is even worse: not only is the public being kept in the dark, but the NDA is obstructing the Planning Commission from carrying out its legal function to advise the Board of Supervisors on land use matters “in order to promote orderly development, the public health, safety, and general welfare, and good zoning practice.”
One example of why this matters: If a data center is being contemplated, it is important to know if it will be air-cooled or use an evaporative cooling system. Because of the potential for water consumption and noise generation, just this one piece of missing information is enough to render the entire proposed rezoning unreasonable. Without all the details, it is impossible for the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors to evaluate impacts to the community if the rezoning is approved.
What happens next?
If the applicant submits any new or revised materials between now and April 6, those will be uploaded to the County website upon receipt. Any changes to the application will be detailed in a cover memo from staff to the Planning Commission. This memo will be included in the meeting agenda and should be made public at least a few days before the April 6 meeting.
And while the Planning Commission will not be holding another public hearing on the Wilderness Crossing rezoning on April 6 or otherwise, there will be a public hearing before the Board of Supervisors before too long – exact date is unknown as yet, but it could be as soon as May 9. Remember, the Planning Commission’s role is to recommend approval or denial to the Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors ultimately decides if the application is approved.
NOTE: At its April 6 meeting, the Planning Commission will hear public comment on a proposed change to the zoning ordinance that would allow building heights up to 80 feet in the Planned Development – Mixed Use (PDM) zoning district. This comes at the request of the Wilderness Crossing applicant specifically because data centers and distribution centers require at least 80 feet. We think this zoning amendment should not be entertained as it is only being considered to allow for data centers, which is a use that the zoning ordinance does not even contemplate for the PDM zoning district (see County Code): The PDM district is intended to “[e]xemplify traditional communities that are pedestrian-oriented.” Learn more about the proposed height amendment. Hear the staff presentation, from 4:09:36 – 4:20:15.
What you can do:
The Planning Commission’s public hearing on the Wilderness Crossing rezoning is now closed and public comments are no longer being accepted. However, we do urge you to contact your planning commissioner about the proposed change to the height in the zoning ordinance if you share our concerns.
As soon as the Planning Commission makes its recommendation on April 6, we will update you and urge you to contact your County Supervisor personally, by email, letter, or phone call, to let them know that Wilderness Crossing is too contaminated, too sprawling, too costly to taxpayers, too demanding on the County’s water supply, in the wrong place, and put simply, a bad deal for Orange County.
Orange County Field Representative
(434) 977-2033 ext. 7047