On the Ground Updates – December 2020

A series of short updates from around the PEC region – Albemarle & Charlottesville, Clarke, Culpeper, Fauquier, Greene, Loudoun, Madison, Orange & Rappahannock.


Albemarle & Charlottesville

Charlottesville Safe Streets

Photo by Peter Krebs, PEC.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck last spring, PEC led a coalition of organizations and advocates recommending that underutilized parking and travel lanes be closed to vehicles and used instead for safe, socially-distanced walking and biking. This fall, the City of Charlottesville began a pilot on 9th Street NE and the Belmont Bridge. A popular success, this Safe Streets initiative doubled the bridge’s sidewalk space and created a separate bike lane without significant impact on vehicle congestion. Now the City is exploring ways to replicate the project in other parts of Charlottesville.

New Albemarle Land Use Representative

PEC Field Representative Chris Hawk has been with PEC since February 2018, focusing on land use issues in Orange, Madison, and Culpeper. As a resident of Charlottesville, Chris is shifting his attention to Albemarle and Orange counties, filling a vacant position left by our colleague Sean Tubbs. As an avid runner, biker, and outdoorsman, Chris is ecstatic to work on protecting the resources he loves in his own backyard.


Clarke

40th Anniversary of Sliding Scale

This year marks the 40th anniversary of sliding scale zoning, which helps keep large parcels of land intact by allocating building rights based upon the size of the tract of land. Sliding scale zoning has resulted in keeping development focused around appropriate town centers, while protecting the county’s rural lands and environment.

Open Cabin to Public

Clarke County is leasing a vacant mountain cabin, on a 50-acre property donated by Melvin Kohn for the purpose of a passive park, to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. The lease marks the first time this property will be public. The cabin will be available to rent through PATC’s website after club staff and volunteers restore it.

Zoning Ordinance Update

The county continues to update the Zoning Ordinance and is awaiting legal review of its revisions to date. The Planning Commission will welcome public input after the review is complete and the update is shared.


Culpeper

Water quality feedback needed

Calling all Mountain Run, Muddy Run, and Lower Hazel River watershed residents! The VA Dept. of Environmental Quality and partners are working to improve water quality through the development of a Total Maximum Daily Load Implementation Plan. This plan will identify the maximum amount of pollutants that can be present in the water to meet water quality standards. Impairment in this area is often bacterial (fecal coliform), with a major source being livestock; failing septic systems and wildlife can also contribute to the problem. To learn more and to become involved, contact Dave Evans, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, at David.Evans@deq.virginia.gov or (703) 583-3835.

Utility-Scale Solar

The BOS is discussing the creation of an Energy Generation District that would allow utility-scale solar via conditional use permit, limiting applications to 300 acres. PEC is concerned that the proposed district could result in the rezoning of agricultural land.

Greenwood Solar’s conditional use permit expired on Oct 2. The applicant has requested a one-year extension, discussed in closed session during the Oct 4 BOS meeting. To add another layer of con- fusion, Senate Bill 5106, passed in 2020 General Assembly Special Session, extends statewide land use permit deadlines for two years as a result of COVID-19. Maroon Solar received a unanimous recommendation of denial from the Planning Commission on Nov 12 and the applicant with- drew the project a week later. PEC opposed this project due to its numerous impacts to natural resources.


Fauquier

Waterloo Bridge Rehabilitation

A major milestone in the rehabilitation of the historic Waterloo Bridge has been reached. On Nov 5, the repaired and repainted metal truss over the Rappahannock River on Rt. 613 between Culpeper and Fauquier was put back on its stone abutments. PEC has been advocating for Waterloo Bridge rehabilitation, rather than removal, for nearly seven years. Thanks to community support and a generous donation from Joan and Russell Hitt, our vision has been realized, and this historic bridge will likely reopen this winter.

Greenway Extension

The county has awarded a contract for the construction of the Warrenton Branch Greenway Extension. The 10-foot wide, asphalt, shared-use path will be constructed between the end of the current Greenway and the Stafford property. PEC donated $3,000 for right-of-way acquisition to help make this extension possible.

Large-Scale Solar

In October, the county adopted a Utility Scale Solar Ordinance that sets reasonable standards for these proposals. Each application will require a special exception process allowing the county to look at impacts on a site-specific basis and to hear public comment.


Greene

Comprehensive Plan Review

In November, Greene County began a state-mandated, five-year review of its current comprehensive plan, adopted in 2016. An initial public hearing, during which county staff will present an overview of the current comprehensive plan, is planned for January. Public engagement and input is a critical part of the year-long review process, and we hope you will get involved. PEC will continue to monitor Greene’s review as it proceeds into 2021 and will provide feedback to the county as appropriate.


Loudoun

Village of St. Louis preservation

PEC has been actively involved in a community-wide effort to protect the historic village of St. Louis from the negative impacts of the proposed Mojax development. See full story on Page 1.

Transportation and Trails

PEC is participating in focus groups for the county’s Safety and Operations Studies for Rt. 9 and Rt. 15 south of Leesburg. So far, each study has included two focus group meetings and a public input session. Initial concept plans have been provided for focus group input in November.

In June, the county hired a consultant to create a plan for establishing the Linear Parks and Trails System, also known as Emerald Ribbons. Over the next six months, the consultant will work closely with the Linear Parks and Trails Committee to develop a plan for community outreach and design.

Conservation

In October, the BOS voted to reestablish the Purchase of Development Rights program. This conservation tool allows the county to buy development rights from landowners and then extinguish those rights and protect the land with a conservation easement. County staff was directed to begin developing the logistics of the program. As a member of the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition’s Conservation Easement Committee, PEC is working with partners to research and recommend tried and true practices for the county.


Madison

Conservation

In September, PEC received federal funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to conserve two cattle farms that collectively encompass more than 1,000 acres in Madison County. These awards continue PEC’s momentum in building our farmland protection efforts in the Upper Rappahannock Basin. In 2018 and 2019, we received federal and state funding to conserve the 382-acre Glenmary Farm in Orange County and another farm in Culpeper County.

Route 231 Communication Tower

A special use permit for a 179-foot communications tower on Route 231 near the Rapidan River was approved by the BOS on Nov 4. PEC raised concerns about the impacts of this cell tower on several national historic register sites and other important cultural, natural, and historical view- sheds, requesting further changes to diminish those impacts.


Orange

Gordonsville Park Network

As part of our Town to Trail initiative, PEC purchased a piece of property on Market Street, across from Verling Park, that supplements a neighboring property we secured last summer and two additional parcels acquired by Gordonsville to expand the park to an entire town block.

PEC’s acquisitions link Verling Park with Fireman’s Fairgrounds, owned by the Gordonsville Volunteer Fire Company. Collectively, these properties encompass 10 acres of open space in the center of town.

PEC plans to work with the town, Fire Company and broader community to create a park design for the connector parcels, develop and convey a public access easement on those parcels to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, and transfer ownership of the two sites to the town in the coming year. The Town to Trail initiative is making tangible progress in expanding open space in town, an invaluable asset for overall quality of life, especially during the pandemic.

Germanna Wilderness Area Rezoning Request

Signature Series Development has requested rezoning for an approximately 75-acre Planned Development Mixed Use on the Route 3 corridor. Although previously rezoned by the same applicant in 2013, the newest request would allow for 230 townhomes and 100 apartment/ condominium units without any requirements for commercial development. PEC has requested that the rezoning request be denied and that commercial requirements be phased into this project, along with other concerns. The Planning Commission has tabled its public hearing and any recommendation until its December meeting.


Rappahannock

SNP Digitization Project

Rappahannock family pre Shenandoah National Park formation
J. Bernard and Ruby Bolen and Family in front of their Rappahannock County home in the 1890s. Credit RHS.

In partnership with James Madison University, and with funding from supporters, PEC has completed the digitization of thousands of legal documents related to the Commonwealth’s 1930s-era condemnation of private lands in Rappahannock County for the creation of Shenandoah National Park. The digitization project has made all of the deed book records, court proceedings and individual case files for Rappahannock County properties that are now part of Shenandoah National Park publicly accessible and searchable for the first time. The online database is hosted by JMU and accessible from the PEC webpage on the project: pecva.org/snp-digital-records.

2020 Comprehensive Plan Update

The 2020 updates to Rappahannock County’s Comprehensive Plan, which has not been updated since 2004, includes new sections for natural and cultural resources, but misses important historical descriptions for villages and crossroads that are the foundation of many African American and Appalachian communities. Recent Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors discussions have explored displaying the villages of Sperryville, Flint Hill, Washington, Amissville and Chester Gap as a series of maps that depict existing zoning. Many community members and PEC have advised against a broad-brush approach to these maps, as there are implications for future development.

Fish population surveys

As part of a regular monitoring effort with Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources fish biologists, PEC last month counted fish populations for stream restoration sites in Rappahannock and Madison counties. At Bolton Branch, PEC’s largest restoration project to date, Eastern brook trout counts have grown some 32–38 percent throughout the stream’s restoration area, including a newly formed population of 11 brook trout in the downstream restoration area, with a healthy amount of adults and juvenile trout.


This article appeared in The Piedmont Environmental Council’s member newsletter, The Piedmont View. If you’d like to become a PEC member or renew your membership, please visit pecva.org/join.