On the Ground Updates – June 2021

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

Albemarle & Charlottesville

Comprehensive Plans

Charlottesville is revising its comprehensive plan in conjunction with a new affordable housing policy and an upcoming zoning code rewrite. Due to significant public input, including extensive comments from PEC, the city extended the May public comment period to June 13. The planning commission will discuss next steps, including a process for rewriting the zoning code, at a June 29 work session.

>> Read more about the draft comprehensive plan: https://www.pecva.org/region/albemarle-charlottesville-region/cville-comp-plan-national-trails-day-mobility-survey/

Albemarle County has been working to develop a timeline for its comprehensive plan update. To adequately address affordable housing, climate action, and equity, among other matters, planning staff have recommended a 3-year process. PEC is urging the county to finalize the climate action plan and housing policy first, as these documents are critical in shaping the comprehensive plan update.

Rezoning Updates

Updated applications have been submitted for the Breezy Hill and RST Residences rezonings. At a community meeting in May, the applicant for Breezy Hill made clear they are now seeking higher density development than is recommended in the Village of Rivanna Master Plan. The RST proposal includes improvements to the affordable housing component and incorporates much-needed public transit stops.


Zoning Ordinance Update

The Planning Commission is completing its review of the ordinance update project, with revisions to the zoning and subdivision ordinances and definitions article. A public hearing for the new ordinances will be held by the commission on July 2. Summaries of the proposed changes can be found on the county’s website. PEC is tracking updates and believes the proposed changes should build upon the existing ordinances that require environmental protections.


Maroon Solar

The Board of Supervisors voted to deny a conditional use permit for the 1,700-acre Maroon Solar proposal near Racoon Ford. PEC opposed this project because of its potential to adversely affect natural, historic, and scenic resources in the area. Discussion about codifying Culpeper’s existing solar policy into a formal ordinance are at the planning commission level.


Thoroughfare Gap Tower

A “balloon test’’ in April provided a glimpse of the visual impact of the 199-foot-tall monopole tower proposed by Rangel Communications off of Rt. 55. PEC supports increased broadband and cell service, but not the proposed location of this tower, at the convergence of three historic districts, where it will be highly visible from Chapman’s Mill, the Bull Run Mountains, and the scenic byway entering Fauquier County.

Bealeton Marsh Solar

In April, the first utility-scale solar proposal under the newly adopted ordinance was evaluated for consistency with Fauquier County’s Rural Lands Plan. PEC voiced our opinion that it was not consistent, as the site-specific evaluation showed that 100% of the land to be under panels is prime agricultural soils and under active agriculture lease. In addition, much of the surrounding landscape is protected for agricultural production under the county PDR (Purchase of Development Rights) program and Ag and Forestal District. We are pleased that the Planning Commission agreed, and the Board of Supervisors upheld that decision in May.


Comprehensive Plan Review

In its comprehensive plan review process, the planning commission this spring held public work sessions on the “Future Land Use” and “Agriculture and Forestry” chapters. PEC’s feedback has been focused on our desire to maintain the existing growth area boundaries, better encourage new development inside the growth areas, and add specific metrics and strategies to the “goals and implementation” part of each chapter.

Rapidan Service Authority Update

In a surprising development, Orange and Madison counties in April granted Greene consent to leave the Rapidan Service Authority. Greene has been seeking to leave the RSA since last August, to establish its own water and sewer service, and had filed several lawsuits in pursuit of that outcome. Agreement from the bondholders, a vote of the RSA Board of Members, and public hearings will be needed prior to Greene’s formal departure.


Solar Array Workgroup

PEC staff initiated a solar workgroup with the Preservation and Conservation Coalition to offer recommendations for the zoning ordinance rewrite. Landowners are receiving solar array solicitations and contract offers, but the county does not have any guiding policy or an ordinance to regulate utility-scale solar arrays. The workgroup recommends against permitting large-scale solar arrays until the zoning ordinance rewrite is complete with specific criteria. Meanwhile, the group is meeting with the Board of Supervisors and county officials to outline general topics for consideration.

St. Louis and Aldie

The Board of Supervisors recently voted to separate the Aldie Assemblage and St. Louis real estate transactions. Offers to purchase the Aldie Assemblage are currently being considered. A June public input session is giving St. Louis resident the chance to guide board decisions on their community’s future.

>> Read more recent updates: https://www.pecva.org/region/loudoun/update-on-st-louis-aldie/
>> Read about the development pressure St. Louis faces: https://www.pecva.org/region/loudoun/development-pressure-squeezes-st-louis-residents-and-water-supply/


Cell Towers Proposed

The Board of Supervisors has proposed two 199- foot cell towers, at Hoover Ridge Park and along Nethers Road near the Hughes River, to improve coverage for the county’s emergency services. The tower at Hoover Ridge Park was approved in May, and an SUP application for the Nethers Road tower is expected in the coming months. Acknowledging the public safety benefits of these towers, PEC has asked the county to consider options to limit their impacts to important scenic viewsheds.


Massive Rezoning Proposed

The Wilderness Crossing rezoning proposes a mix of residential, commercial, office space, light industrial, institutional uses and parks on 2,602 acres. It would represent one of the largest developments in Orange and set the tone for future growth. For size comparison, Lake of the Woods contains 4,256 lots on 2,600 acres. The developers have said the project will take about 30 years to build out, but have yet to release specific details. In addition to the large size of the rezoning, PEC is concerned about the inclusion of a proposed reservoir, realignment of Route 20 through the Wilderness Battlefield National Park, impacts to water quality and the Rapidan River, potential contamination from extensive gold mining activities, and associated tax implications for county residents as a whole. We expect this application to go before the Planning Commission in Summer/Fall 2021.


Rezoning Applications

PEC believes the current applications to rezone land owned by Mt. Airy Field, LLC from five-acre to two-acre minimum lots is inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive plan. Sperryville has no similar zoning elsewhere, and PEC is concerned that, if approved, this rezoning would set a precedent for the redevelopment of medium-scale lots in the rural village of Sperryville and beyond.

In April, PEC addressed two recent zoning variance requests near Huntly, both adjacent to headwater streams that are important habitat for eastern brook trout. The variance requests for these small parcels are at odds with the conservation values for the surrounding landscape, and we are concerned that future land use decisions for similarly sized properties in this neighborhood could add up to a “death by many cuts” to a sensitive trout stream.

Fish Passage

PEC’s Bolton Branch pilot project for flood resiliency and improved fish passage will be completed with VDOT crews during this summer. Larger culverts will replace a restrictive low-water ford on Mill Hill Road where it crosses Bolton Branch, a headwater stream that connects over two miles of in-stream habitat for native brook trout.

>> Learn more and watch our video here: https://www.pecva.org/our-work/clean-water/eliminating-barriers-and-disruptions/stream-restoration-fish-passage-projects/

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.