Albemarle & Charlottesville
PEC continues to be the voice for conservation and smart planning in Albemarle County and is working to advance these principles through all aspects of the Albemarle Comprehensive Plan Update. Along with the Sierra Club and Virginia League of Women Voters, we co-facilitated a forum on key issues to gather community input that we shared with the County’s Comprehensive Plan Update team. We are also raising awareness of the public benefits and ecological and economic values of the rural areas with community groups and County leaders.
The City of Charlottesville has a new draft Zoning Code that will be clearer and easier= to understand. The proposed ordinance authorizes more mixed-use development in walkable areas and more density throughout the City. Public hearings and eventual approval are anticipated this summer. Learn more at cvilleplanstogether.com.
Albemarle County’s new, 1,190-acre, mostly wooded Biscuit Run Park is expected to open this fall in the county’s development area and near where many people live, work and shop. PEC is pursuing multi-use paths through the park connecting the Southwood Community and Fifth Street Station.
In May, PEC’s Clarke County Land Conservation Fund hosted an educational program for county residents at Long Branch Historic House and Farm. Fritz Reuter, owner of Virginica, LLC, reviewed biodiversity basics, such as the factors contributing to its decline and practical advice on how landowners can encourage a deep-rooted rewilding of their land.
In February at the Blandy Experimental Farm, PEC President Chris Miller and our conservation and land use staff highlighted various opportunities and challenges PEC is tackling in our nine-county region.
In March, the Culpeper Town Council voted to approve a rezoning application for the Culpeper Technology Campus, a nine-building, 600-megawatt data center campus within the McDevitt Technology Zone. PEC is not opposed to this location, but has made recommendations for certain aspects of this project and raised concerns about broader impacts to the Mountain Run watershed.
The Town of Culpeper is currently considering a second data center campus, Copper Ridge, next to the Culpeper Technology Campus site. While we’re still learning more about this project, we are concerned about its visibility from the Culpeper National Cemetery and adjacency to the South East Street Historic District and other residential areas.
In April, the Planning Commission voted to defer a decision on the proposed utility-scale solar installation, North Ridge Solar LLC, until June. PEC is concerned about this project’s potential for significant negative impacts on the Stevensburg area because of high erodible soils at the site and its proximity to the previously approved 1,000+-acre Greenwood Solar project, which could compound such negative impacts as erosion and flooding.
At its April public hearing, the Planning Commission determined that two utility-scale solar applications, in Midland and Bristersburg, were non-compliant with the Comprehensive Plan. Appeals filed by both applicants will be taken up by the Board of Supervisors. The developers can only submit Special Exception applications for the projects to proceed if the Board grants their appeals. Details about how these projects will address potential impacts to soils, water resources, and historic resources will be determined at that stage.
Data center applications have either been submitted or are anticipated in Remington, Catlett, Vint Hill and Warrenton. Currently, the zoning ordinance only permits data centers with any new power lines placed underground. A data center developer has proposed a zoning text amendment that would allow data center proposals within Business Park zoning to utilize overhead power lines. PEC opposes this proposal and continues to partner with community groups to raise awareness about the potential impacts of pending data center proposals, associated energy infrastructure, and data center development overall.
In April, PEC staff participated in the Greene County ‘Nature for Everyone’ Earth Day event, where visitors learned about native and invasive plants, reptiles, bees, and land management and conservation programs available in the area.
PEC, working closely with Preserve Rural Greene, opposed three overly intensive tourist lodging projects proposed in the County’s rural areas. In response to community concerns, the Board of Supervisors recently asked County planning staff to review the tourist lodging section of the zoning ordinance and recommend changes to support public health, safety, and welfare while supporting property rights and tourism.
July 26 is the expected date for the Board of Supervisors’ public hearing on the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite. PEC has contributed throughout the three-year process and will continue until expected adoption in the latter part of this year.
The Prime Soils Zoning Ordinance Amendment (ZOAM) will come before the Board of Supervisors for
action at a date yet to be determined this fall. PEC will continue to provide input on behalf of much-needed protections for our prime agricultural soils.
In April, PEC participated in the “Loudoun Together” summit of community leaders on the challenges facing Loudoun County, including a discussion on how Loudoun’s eastern and western communities can come together to preserve the county’s future. PEC President Chris Miller gave a presentation on unconstrained development and long-term viability in Loudoun.
A committee of residents and county officials has been reviewing Madison County’s Comprehensive Plan since last November. Public meetings will be held this fall to share the committee’s early draft for input, and then the final draft will be presented to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors in October or November for approval. PEC will continue to be engaged in the process and will promote the public input opportunities once scheduled.
A twice-proposed, twice-delayed utility-scale solar facility for 90+ acres behind Yoder’s Country Market on Rte. 29 is back before County decision-makers and is headed for a public hearing in early July. At press time, the proposal contained some still-unanswered questions, including how the facility would connect to Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s nearby substation, whether the project would require new power lines and poles, and where that infrastructure would be located. PEC will continue to review this project as the details emerge.
Despite overwhelming community opposition, the Board of Supervisors approved the Wilderness Crossing development proposal in April. Most alarming was a last-minute change that removed the cap on square footage of data center/distribution center space, adding even more uncertainty to an already ill-defined and highly speculative development. In effort to stop the project, members of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition have filed suit against Orange County, citing violations of state law and local ordinance. PEC staff has been deeply involved in challenging Wilderness Crossing since its inception and has developed extensive knowledge of the rezoning and its impacts. While not a plaintiff, we are actively engaged and supporting this legal challenge.
In early June, PEC transferred the two parcels it purchased in Gordonsville as a gift to the Town to expand the footprint of Verling Park. PEC worked with the Town and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation to place a deed of dedication to open space on the parcels to secure them for public use into the future.
Following consultant recommendations and a contentious zoning dispute, the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission unanimously voted to revoke the Board of Zoning Appeals’ (BZA) legislative powers over special use permits. The BZA will now only review appeals and variances; special use permits – now referred to as special exception permits – will be the jurisdiction of the Board of Supervisors. PEC staff continue to monitor this issue.
An auto shop on Water Street in Sperryville caught fire and exploded, luckily leaving no one harmed but many without electricity. Due to the fire’s proximity to the ecologically significant Thornton River, community members, local partners, and PEC staff are initiating additional water quality monitoring procedures to assess the potential impact.
This article appeared in the 2023 summer 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.