On the Ground – Summer 2020

A series of short updates from each of PEC’s 9 counties – Albemarle & Charlottesville, Clarke, Culpeper, Fauquier, Greene, Loudoun, Madison, Orange & Rappahannock.

Albemarle & Charlottesville

Comprehensive Plan Updates

This summer, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors will consider how to meet the greenhouse gas reduction goals they approved last October. PEC will highlight how land conservation, smart land use policy, and natural resource protection have been and will continue to be effective tools for keeping our carbon footprint low. We will strive to ensure that Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan continues to demonstrate the value of thoughtful growth management strategies to avoid urban sprawl. We will also analyze carbon-reduction opportunities that may emerge post-Covid-19, such as increased teleworking, and that could be incorporated into the plan.

The City of Charlottesville is in the process of revising its Comprehensive Plan, updating its zoning code and drafting an affordable housing plan. This combined effort is being called Cville Plans Together and will include a series of online sessions for public information and input for the Comprehensive Plan, which will lay the groundwork for revising the zoning map and text in 2021. This combined approach is intended to result in greater harmony between zoning (which describes what can be built) and the community’s land-use vision (which is expressed in the Comprehensive Plan).

Government meetings have been taking place via electronic means, and PEC staff have been working to advise citizens on how to participate effectively. We have urged both localities to be mindful that all public decisions, including those related to development and land use, have lasting impacts on the entire community and should be undertaken with maximum transparency. Decisions that cannot be undertaken with full transparency and citizen engagement should be deferred until such time that robust public input is possible.


StoryMap Virtual Tour

In March, to celebrate Clarke County and the incredible work being done there, we created a story map virtual tour that highlights many agricultural, historic, natural and scenic spots within the county. It includes photographs, maps and narrative to guide you throughout. You can start the tour and see other Clarke happenings at pecva.org/clarke.

Upcoming Webinars

The Blue Ridge Conservation Alliance Steering Committee, which PEC helps coordinate, will host two upcoming webinars as part of a speaker series. First, learn about the Blue Ridge and conservation easements during a webinar featuring PEC, the Land Trust of Virginia and other partners on July 8 at 5:30pm. Next, in July or August (exact date TBD), those who want to learn more about regional conservation partnerships are invited to hear from Bill Labich, senior conservationist for the Highstead Foundation and coordinator of the Regional Conservation Partnership Network. Bill will discuss recognizing the need, establishing operations, taking action, maintaining sustainability of these partnerships and answer questions.


Land Use Update

In May, the Board of Supervisors approved the rezoning of 31.8 acres along Chestnut Fork Road, from Rural Area (RA) to R-1, which allows for low density residential development. PEC spoke out against this rezoning, as the property was part of a larger tract of RA land, including land with beneficial agricultural soils, and should not be rezoned based on the residential zoning of adjoining properties.

Also in May, the Planning Commission recommended approval of an amendment to the subdivision ordinance, initiated by the Board of Supervisors, that would remove the requirement that subdivision variances be in the public interest. The Board of Supervisors approved the amendment on June 2. PEC spoke out against this amendment, as it removes consistency and transparency from decisions made by the county’s elected and appointed officials.

The county’s work on its Comprehensive Plan has been delayed by both the recent departure of their principal planner and Covid-19. The finalization date will likely be pushed back to 2021.

Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park Study

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees Virginia’s state parks, was directed by the General Assembly to complete a feasibility study for the long-discussed state park at Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain battlefields. American Battlefield Trust and the Brandy Station Foundation own over 1,000 acres, and they would convey nearly all of their holdings to the Commonwealth to create a park. The Department of Conservation and Recreation will weigh the management, potential user activities and operation of such a park in Culpeper County and make a recommendation to the legislature by the end of this year.


Fauquier Farm & Land Conservation

On May 12, PEC’s Julian Scheer Fauquier Land Conservation Fund and Fauquier County’s Department of Agricultural Development hosted a webinar about the County’s Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) Program and donating conservation easements. The current PDR application round is open through June 30. A recording of the webinar, presentations, and additional information are available on our website at pecva.org/conservation.

Tree Giveaway

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, PEC joined with Friends of the Rappahannock and Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission to give away 300 native trees to county residents. Trees were dropped off at participants’ homes, allowing people to maintain social distance while making a positive contribution to the environment starting in their own backyards.

Fauquier County Rezonings and Plan Amendments

Prior to the pandemic, several land use applications were being processed by the county, including multifamily adaptive reuse of the Vint Hill barracks and a zoning text amendment on utility scale solar. Some of these may move forward under the county’s new phased approach, but new—and especially controversial—applications may not be accepted for a while. Comprehensive Plan amendments being worked on include the Village Plan, a new Housing chapter, and a new Comprehensive Plan amendment to expand Opal Gateway by 82.5 acres along Avatar Lane. The Town of Warrenton is also updating its Comprehensive Plan, and a draft is expected to come out soon.


Growth & Development

Greene County has continued to work on government business throughout the Covid-19 pandemic with many items progressing throughout the summer. In fact, March and April planning and development activity increased over the same period in 2019. We await the 2020 Census to see how closely actual population growth tracks with recent forecasts. The county will conduct a zoning audit this summer; if it is handled poorly, we are concerned it could lead to a push to unnecessarily expand county growth areas.

Stormwater Runoff Assistance

In Greene County, the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District provides technical and financial assistance to homeowners, businesses and local government to address problems with erosion and poor vegetative cover associated with stormwater runoff. For example, a Greene County landowner used the program to create ponding areas that slowed runoff and minimized downhill erosion and to plant native vegetation to improve ground cover on a steep cut bank. Financial assistance is available through the Virginia Conservation Assistance Program (VCAP) which can reimburse participants up to 75% of the cost of installing conservation practices to address these problems. New funding becomes available July 1, 2020. To request a site visit or more information contact Richard Jacobs at RichardJ@culpeperswcd.org or 540-825-8591.


Community Farm Update

PEC’s Community Farm at Roundabout Meadows is in full swing for the 2020 season. Prior to the Covid19 pandemic, we hosted 76 volunteers and engaged with 144 community members. We began harvesting in early April (four months earlier than 2019!) and have donated 1,500 pounds of fresh vegetables to Loudoun Hunger Relief so far. We also partnered with a local orchard to provide 2,000 pounds of apples. While we had to postpone our volunteer opportunities early in the season, we began welcoming volunteers back to the farm in a socially distant manner in mid-June!

Zoning Updates and Rural Zoning

In early May, PEC staff and partner organizations participated in the first round of public input for Loudoun’s zoning ordinance revision. The group identified weaknesses in the current zoning ordinance and recommended stronger environmental protections for subdivision designs, building standards and other planning components. Conservation organizations, including PEC, are discussing various zoning strategies with the Board of Supervisors to reduce the negative environmental impacts caused by Loudoun’s current cluster subdivision ordinance. Achieving the Comprehensive Plan’s vision for the rural area and protecting Loudoun’s prime agricultural soils remain a top priority for PEC

Project Threatens Historic Village

Village of St. Louis sign
The Village of St. Louis is one of the first African American townships in Loudoun County. Photo by Gem Bingol, PEC.

PEC continues to work with the Friends of St. Louis and community members to advocate for environmental and historic resource protections relating to development and impacts to wetlands on a parcel in the historically African American village of St. Louis. Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources recently agreed with PEC’s nomination to expand the boundaries of the St. Louis Historic District to include the property in question, affirming it is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.


Potential Communication Tower

Earlier in the year, County Supervisors approved a communication tower to be located at Graves Mountain Lodge, a proposal submitted by CWS X, LLC. The same company has also completed a balloon test for an additional communication tower just north of the Rapidan River on Route 231, though no application has been submitted to the county to date. PEC has submitted comments to the applicant and DHR, highlighting important historical resources in proximity to the potential tower. Since then, the applicant has reduced the tower’s overall proposed height to 179-feet. PEC continues to advocate for historical viewshed protection, while also recognizing the importance of rural broadband access. We intend to weigh in on any related county process.

Conservation & Stewardship

PEC worked with landowners from two large farms to apply to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for the purchase of agricultural land easements (ALE). If funded, the projects will conserve an almost 600-acre farm with over two miles of frontage along the Robinson River and another 450-acre farm with almost a mile of frontage along the Rapidan River. In other good news, two Madison County landowners planted nine acres and almost 2,000 native trees and shrubs along the Robinson River as part of the Headwater Stream Initiative. Read more about that initiative in the Rappahannock note below.

Potential Rural Resort

A special use permit has been submitted for a 749+ acre rural resort (Crystallis LLC—Crescere Resort) on Route 231, along the Rapidan River. The application will be presented during the June 17 Planning Commission meeting, and is currently scheduled for a joint public hearing before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors in July. The rural resort would be adjacent to multiple conservation easements, the Rapidan River, scenic Route 231 and the Madison Barbour Rural Historic District.


Land Use Update

On April 14, the Board of Supervisors adopted its Emergency Ordinance for Continuity of Government Operations and considered an addition to Booster Park (adjacent to the airport). The Supervisors ultimately approved multiple fenced-in play areas for use as a dog park, noting PEC’s support of the project. At its May meeting, the board conducted a joint public hearing with VDOT. The hearing solicited public comment on the county’s proposed road improvements contained in the Secondary Six-Year Plan (Fiscal Years 2021-2026) and the associated construction budget (FY 2021). PEC will continue to monitor and provide comments as necessary.

The Planning Commission held its first meeting since January on May 21, during which a public hearing was held for a special use permit for Mid Atlantic Pyrotechnic Arts Guild (MAPAG)—a private group of firework enthusiasts. Due to the numerous (80+) public comments received, the public hearing was kept open through June 18, allowing more time for comment and for the planning commission to further analyze the application before its decision. Although MAPAG has been operating in Orange for years, PEC expressed our concern that using a single location for recurrent, monthly fireworks testing and display could disturb public health, safety and welfare.

Green Streets

PEC’s Town to Trail working group teamed up with the Friends of the Rappahannock and a local supporter to plant 10 large trees along North Main Street—beginning the restoration of a tree canopy that once lined this key thoroughfare. The trees were planted at five properties where large trees had died and been removed over the past few years. As they mature, the young trees will help provide cool, clean air for the many folks that walk Gordonsville’s historic district.


Clean Water, More Trees

PEC, Friends of the Rappahannock, Virginia Department of Forestry and local Soil and Water Districts partnered for the fourth year on the Headwater Stream Initiative. This free, voluntary initiative provides landowners with technical expertise, materials, and labor for streamside tree plantings in the headwaters of the Rappahannock River watershed. Despite the limitations Covid-19 placed on our ability to use volunteers for this effort, Friends of the Rappahannock staff, landowners, and several private contractors stepped up to plant more than 8,000 trees in Rappahannock. Additionally, new trees planted this spring totaled in 2,875 in Madison, 315 in Orange and 305 in Culpeper counties. Together, these resilient, socially-distant, and careful teams put 11,795 young saplings in the ground just in time for spring rains.

As part of a local effort to monitor waterways in the Hazel River watershed, PEC continues to test three sites along the Rush River—at Harris Hollow Road, Sunnyside Orchard Road and Rappahannock County Park—for the presence of E. coli in the water. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality found these waters and parts of the Hazel River watershed to be “impaired” by high bacteria counts from 2008-2019.

This article was featured in our Summer 2020 member newsletter, The Piedmont View.