On The Ground Updates – December 2023

A series of short updates from around the PEC region – Albemarle & CharlottesvilleClarkeCulpeperFauquierGreeneLoudoun, MadisonOrange & Rappahannock.

Albemarle & Charlottesville

Fifeville Community Trail

The Fifeville Community Trail, which opened in 2022, connects Benjamin Tonsler Park to surrounding neighborhoods and provides a nature-full walking route between 5th Street and the Cherry Avenue corridor. With support from UVA’s PhD-Plus program and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, PEC recently worked with neighborhood residents to create historic signage describing the brickyard that once existed on the site and some of the ways the landscape has changed as a result of urban renewal and the park’s expansion.

AC44 Comprehensive Plan Update

The County has reversed its decision to combine the Rural Area chapter and Development Areas chapter into a single Land Use and Transportation chapter in the AC44 Comprehensive Plan Update. This is a big win and a key factor in protecting the rural area from development sprawl. PEC spoke at numerous board and commission meetings about the critical importance of a standalone Rural Area chapter and, through much community outreach, drove community members to directly engage supervisors and planning commissioners on this issue.

Solar Energy Facilities and Riparian Buffer Overlay District Ordinances

PEC continues to monitor and advocate for smart policies regarding the County’s development of Solar Energy Facilities and Riparian Buffer Overlay District ordinances and a potential electrical transmission line rebuild running through important Albemarle Rural Area cultural landscapes driven by the proliferation of data centers in Virginia.


Albemarle County launched its innovative MicroCAT micro-transit service, allowing riders to use an app (or make a phone call) to book free car rides within (and between) the Pantops and 29-North areas. This pilot service, which is operated by Charlottesville Area Transit, will extend service to many parts of the designated growth area that are not dense enough to support regular, fixed-route bus service. Learn more at city.ridewithvia/microcat


Easement Assistance Grant

PEC’s Clarke County Land Conservation Fund created an Easement Assistance Grant to help eligible landowners in Clarke County place their property under a conservation easement. The grant reimburses up to $5,000 in qualifying expenses, and applications will be accepted on a rolling basis starting in January 2024. Information and application instructions are available at the Clarke County Conservation Easement Authority at clarkelandconservation.org.

Utility-scale Solar Zoning Ordinance

This month, the Planning Commission will review language to strengthen the county’s utility-scale solar zoning ordinance. PEC has given input on these ordinances and encouraged the county to strengthen existing language rather than ban utility-scale solar, as the Board of Supervisors originally requested.


Technology Zone Ordinance

On Nov. 8, the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors voted to update the Technology Zone Ordinance, a tax incentive program that has encouraged data center development in Culpeper. The update will shrink the area where data centers are eligible for incentives to the McDevitt Drive area in the hopes of limiting utility sprawl. PEC has advocated in support of this change to the local data center incentive area.

Cielo Data Center

On Nov. 9, the Culpeper County Planning Commission voted to forward Cielo Digital Infrastructure to the Culpeper Board of Supervisors with a recommendation for approval. Cielo is a 300-megawatt data center with three, two-story buildings on Nalles Mill Road within the Town Water and Sewer Service District. While this campus is near the approved sites for CloudHQ, Copper Ridge, and the Culpeper Technology Campus, and removed from residential areas, it will require a new substation and possibly additional upgrades or expansion of the existing transmission lines.

Culpeper Battlefields State Park

The American Battlefield Trust has officially begun the transfer of land from trust ownership to state ownership in preparation for the launch of the new state park at Culpeper Battlefields. This new park will include multiple battlefield sites in Culpeper County, including Fleetwood Farm in Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain Battlefield. The park is scheduled to officially open in summer 2024.


Amazon Data Center in Warrenton

Town of Warrenton planning staff have released their second round of comments on the proposed Amazon Data Center, with redactions of the Site Development Plan and many staff comments. Amazon justified these sweeping redactions by citing Virginia Freedom of Information Act exemptions intended to protect information about the facility’s security and utility systems, despite the exclusion of standard information and details about noise-emitting equipment. PEC and our partners are concerned that these overly broad redactions set a disturbing precedent that could exclude public engagement in future data center proposals in Virginia.

Transmission Line Proposals

The County continues to grapple with the transmission line proposals that have been announced by PJM Interconnection, the organization that coordinates electricity transmission in 13 states and the District of Columbia, to serve the explosive growth in data center energy demand in Virginia. PEC and our partner organizations in Fauquier County have organized multiple town hall meetings providing information to residents on the proposals as well as how they can get engaged. On Dec. 13, PJM Interconnection’s preferred transmission line path options, released in October, will be reviewed.


New Conservation Easement

PEC received $767,500 in combined state and federal farmland protection funding from the National Resources Conservation Service and Virginia Land Conservation Foundation to help a young farmer permanently protect a farm over 200 acres in Greene County with a conservation easement. The property, bisected by two tributaries to the Rapidan River, encompasses productive farm soils and forest of high conservation value.

Benthic and Bacteria Implementation Plan for the North Fork Rivanna River Watershed

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is undertaking the preparation of a Benthic and Bacteria Implementation Plan for the North Fork Rivanna River watershed in Greene and Albemarle counties. The plan will address impairments of the North Fork Rivanna River watershed, which is on Virginia’s list of impaired waters for having too much E. coli bacteria and failing to support aquatic life. The North Fork Rivanna River watershed supplies drinking water via the Rivanna Water & Sewer North Forth Intake. PEC is currently monitoring this project and updating community members in both Greene and Albemarle counties.


Purchase of Development Rights program

On Dec. 12, the Loudoun County Finance Government Operations and Economic Development Committee will review an additional presentation by County staff on the establishment of a Purchase of Development Rights program. Over the past year, PEC has worked with various partners in support of the staff proposal and will continue to provide feedback and resources as appropriate.

Zoning Ordinance Rewrite

The Board of Supervisors finished its review of the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite on Oct. 30. County staff has made updates to the draft with board-directed edits and prepared a new draft that was made available on Nov. 30 for public review in advance of a Dec. 13 public hearing. If all goes as planned, the Board will adopt the final draft in December. PEC staff have followed every meeting and been deeply involved in providing stakeholder feedback to the Board throughout its review.

Rural Zoning Amendment

While PEC supports the Board of Supervisors’ adoption of the zoning ordinance rewrite this year, we are urging the county to prioritize a Rural Zoning Amendment next year, to address a series of long-standing rural issues. These include off-site impacts from rural economy businesses, better protections for farming operations and better environmental protection for sensitive natural resources.

Prime Soils and Cluster Subdivision Zoning Amendment

Unfortunately, the Prime Soils and Cluster Subdivision Zoning Amendment that we expected to be incorporated into the County’s Zoning Ordinance Rewrite prior to adoption will not happen as planned. Instead, it will be taken up at the Planning Commission’s Dec. 14 meeting and the incoming Board of Supervisors during its new term.

Mickie Gordon Park Special Exception

The Mickie Gordon Park Special Exception was withdrawn after community members provided extensive feedback on an alternate vision for what the community wants in a park. A revised proposal will be forthcoming in the new year.


Comprehensive Plan Update

Madison County’s Comprehensive Plan update process continues, and in November, PEC helped County staff and comprehensive plan update committee members develop an online community survey for gathering input. PEC promoted the survey and urged residents to ask the County to approach development in a way that complements existing services and infrastructure, enhances a walkable Town of Madison with everyday access to nature, and protects natural resources, open space and working farmlands. The updated plan will be adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 2024.


Two Easements In Progress

PEC was awarded over $1.7 million in state and federal farmland protection funding from the National Resources Conservation Service and Virginia Land Conservation Foundation to help protect two working farms totaling over 540 acres in Orange County. Located in the Madison-Barbour Rural Historic District, these two easements will protect productive farm soils and valuable wildlife habitat.

Rapidan Service Authority Withdrawals

PEC continues to raise alarms that the Rapidan River may not be able to meet long-term water needs for Wilderness Crossing’s proposed thousands of additional residents and millions of square feet of industrial uses. In a drought, there may not even be enough water for current residents, according to Rapidan Service Authority. And yet, the RSA has asked Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality to increase the permitted daily withdrawal from the Rapidan by 1 million gallons. PEC and Friends of the Rappahannock are actively following this application through the review process. The public comment period has not yet been announced.

Wilderness Crossing FOIA Lawsuit

On Nov. 9, PEC filed a lawsuit against Orange County for improperly denying public access to documents pertaining to the Wilderness Cross-ing rezoning, in violation of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. On Nov. 16, the County provided copies of previously withheld nondisclosure agreements and agreed to re-review our original request and provide a log of any other withheld documents. We now know that ten local officials, including members of the Board of Supervisors, signed NDAs “for the benefit of Amazon.com, Inc. and its a ffiliates.”

The lawsuit reflects our growing concern that NDAs are being used to fast-track data centers, which bring massive infrastructure consequences that affect residents and cause irreversible environmental impacts. PEC believes, and Virginia law affirms: the public has a right to know the details behind local land use decisions. To allow public officials to hide behind a veil of secrecy undermines the democratic process.

PEC continues to actively support our Wilderness Battlefield Coalition partners’ ongoing legal challenge to Wilderness Crossing. No hearing date in that suit has been scheduled as of press time.


Tree Plantings

Friends of the Rappahannock and PEC hosted two volunteer tree planting events in Rappahannock County this fall. On Nov. 18, volunteers planted native trees along the Thornton River and the Sperryville Trail, in partnership with the Sperryville Community Alliance and the Rappahannock League of Environmental Protection. On Dec. 6, volunteers planted native trees along the Rush River at Rappahannock County Park. Additional fi nancial support for these tree planting projects came from the Department of Forestry.

New Conservation Easement

Rappahannock County landowners have donated to The Piedmont Environmental Council a conservation easement that permanently protects over 48 acres of land near the village of Flint Hill, including a high conservation value forest, a Class II Wild Trout Stream, and steep slopes near Shenandoah National Park.

Krebser Fund Awards

PEC’s Krebser Fund for Rappahannock County Conservation has awarded two grants for key programs improving land management and water quality in Rappahannock County. The Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District received $50,000 for its financial incentive program supporting Rappahannock farmers who participate in stream exclusion practices. The Krebser Fund also awarded $25,000 to Friends of the Rappahannock for riparian tree planting projects in Rappahannock County.

This update appeared in the 2023 winter edition of 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.