Strengthening growth management in Albemarle
Award-winning reporter Sean Tubbs joined the team this summer and is working alongside Rex Linville and Peter Krebs to advocate for the creation of a high-quality community with a smart transportation network. We are working to ensure that a new economic development strategy is consistent with Albemarle’s tradition of protecting its natural resources from sprawl development. Our staff has joined forces with citizens in the growth areas such as Pantops and U.S. 29 to create new public space. We are also advocating for better regional cooperation between local governments and the University of Virginia.
In the coming months, we will help shepherd adoption of a biodiversity action plan that will enhance and strengthen wildlife habitat and will add our voice to those calling for stronger requirements for riparian buffers. We are also keeping an eye on potential changes to the county’s rules on cell towers — rules that have so far protected the viewshed from visual clutter.
Promoting and celebrating Conservation
PEC’s third annual Sporting Clays for Conservation event was another fun outing that helped support conservation funding. We appreciate our sponsors: Tri-County Feeds, Fashion, Finds, Purdey & Sons and Old Bust Head Brewery. Congratulations to the winners, who managed to overcome the day’s high winds. For women, the winners are: 1) Sandra Guarriello, 2) Sarah Daniels, 3) Jenny Irwin; and for men: 1) Allen Fremyer, 2) Mark Wyatt, 3) Ryan Stokes.
This past spring, Pam Lettie invited artists to collaborate in a celebration of Clarke County with a collection of photos, artwork, and writings in a book she published titled “Clarke’s Great Outdoors.” Copies are still available at Barns of Rose Hill, and they make great holiday gifts! Proceeds will be donated to PEC!
This year also included another round of conservation education for Clarke County’s fourth graders. The effort was in partnership with a group of faithful local non-profits and agencies. Students enjoyed a wide variety of outdoor activities that gave them new perspectives on the importance of preserving habitat.
We also supported the county’s update to the Water Resources Plan, which will help conserve surface and groundwater, as well as keep it cleaner and safer. The plan includes stronger septic protections, additional monitoring and data collection and a well water testing program.
A Finger on the Scale for Solar
Over the last couple of issues, we have provided updates on the latest developments with utility- scale solar projects in Virginia. Given our proximity to demand and the location of certain infrastructure (fiber optic and transmission points for interconnection), our region has seen multiple proposals. The passage of Senate Bill 966, requiring 5,000 megawatts of renewables over the next decade, and the inclusion of those goals in the recently released Virginia Energy Plan increase, makes the prospect of new projects in our region even more of a reality. Culpeper was one of the first in our region to review multiple proposals and was left without much guidance on how to address the significant siting issues that arise when trying to accommodate a use that requires hundreds of acres. Two proposals, Culpeper North Star and Greenwood Solar, drove the discussion in the county.
Recognizing the absence of best practices and any real guidance from the state, PEC and the American Battlefield Trust joined together in educating the county on siting considerations. A series of conversations led to the county adopting a solar policy, which has acted as a model for other localities. Ultimately, the policy helped the Board judge the proposals and avoid or minimize their impacts.
The first proposal to come before the Board was a 20 MW facility named Culpeper North Solar. The project would have been located on 178 acres between Brandy Station and Stevensburg, but was ultimately rejected due to the project’s impact on agricultural soils, historic resources and neighboring properties. The second, Greenwood Solar located south of Stevensburg and Rt. 3, was approved. The 100 MW project will cover approximately 600 acres in panels. There were concerns about historical resources. However, the lack of designated agricultural prime soils led the Board to approve the proposal. This decision is under legal challenge. The county also amended their policy recently to limit the total amount of acreage that can be used for this purpose.
The interest in utility-scale solar has sparked great interest in developing best practices and policy considerations. We continue to provide a leadership role in this conversation and are pushing the Commonwealth to be more active in assisting localities and directing the industry to better sites. PEC’s stance is that rooftop solar is superior to utility-scale and underutilized industrial and brown eld sites are the best suited locations for utility-scale projects. Our scenic, cultural and historic landscapes do not have to be compromised in the pursuit of renewable energy.
Updated Plans, Remington Walks and Vint Hill’s Future
Fauquier County is updating the Rural Lands Plan and Telecommunication Master Plan sections of their Comprehensive Plan. The Rural Lands Plan provides guidance about growth for 90 percent of the land area in the county. The Telecommunication Master Plan will provide the background for the updated telecommunication zoning ordinance. We are following and providing input on both of these important updates.
The Remington Walks project, completed last year, is still hard at work supporting small projects occurring throughout the town. Residents are building off of the suggestions in the Remington Walks Plan to complete trail connections, build a pocket park in downtown, and enhance the streetscaping and sidewalks on Main Street and Business 15/29.
After a proposal for additional residential development met significant pushback from the community and organizations like ours, the owners of Vint Hill have come back with a much better application. This new application allows increased non-residential development limited to data center or governmental uses. Traffic impacts will be analyzed as part of the application. Also, proffers will help improve aesthetics, prevent noise impacts and incorporate open space, sidewalks and trails. It will likely be approved before the end of 2018.
Following a successful event this past spring, PEC’s Julian Scheer Fauquier Land Conservation Fund has $90,000 available for land conservation in Fauquier, nearly reaching the $100,000 goal set by the fund’s advisory committee members. The fund focuses on assisting landowners with the costs associated with donating conservation easements or providing critical matching dollars that leverage funding avail- able through the county’s Purchase of Development Rights Program. A number of local farmers have submitted applications in 2018 to sell an easement to the county through the program, which are now being reviewed.
At a crossroads
This year, the Greene County Board of Supervisors adopted a new master plan for the Ruckersville community that seeks to transform the junction of U.S. 29 and U.S. 33 into “a community-focused destination with a sense of place.” The document is a checklist to help guide the development of the fastest-growing portion of the county. To ensure it becomes a reality, PEC is part of an advisory group that will oversee the mission of steering development into something that befits the early 21st century. This includes development of a parallel road network for local traffic that will also serve bicyclists and pedestrians. At the same time, Greene has taken steps to implement a water supply plan that could cost as much as $65 million. We will work to help lower cost by revisiting water demand projections. This year, Greene also adopted an economic development plan and strategy that places a high emphasis on protecting the county’s rural places.
Choosing our future
For over two years, Loudoun County has been engaged in an update to its Comprehensive Plan, which will likely set the course for future land development for many years. The proposed plan update reached a critical juncture this fall when the county’s Planning Commission held a public hearing on November 7.
Since the beginning of the process, PEC has been engaged, working in partnership with our Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition partners to analyze, communicate and disseminate our findings. On Election Day, we led an outreach campaign to inform residents about the Planning Commission hearing. Volunteers covered 17 polling stations and shared information about the draft Plan, including our major concern that it allows too much growth. The Board of Supervisors will get the draft in 2019. We expect the new plan to be adopted by mid-year. We’re working to ensure it reflects the needs and interests of the public as expressed during the process.
PEC and allied groups have been advocating for the County to take a more proactive role to encourage land conservation, particularly in the county’s AR-1 zoning district. Our staff has offered a variety of options the county could and should pursue, including establishing an easement purchase program to preserve productive farmland and forestland. As a result, the Board of Supervisors is considering a modest proposal to help landowners with the upfront cost of donating conservation easements.
This year, we welcomed additional staff to beef up our Loudoun team. Evan McCarthy jumped in to help Gem Bingol with the Comprehensive Plan and specific development proposals throughout the county. Tracy Lind, who joined PEC last November as a field representative, has been supporting landowners in several easement donations and building interest in restoration in both the Goose Creek and Catoctin Creek watersheds.
Also, expect to see signs of activity at Roundabout Meadows, where Dana Melby has begun work as our new farm manager. Dana is busy with the startup of our community farming venture, working to establish a source of clean water, deer fencing and an access drive to the northwest corner of our property by Gilbert’s Corner. On the east side of Roundabout Meadows, PEC’s Celia Vuocolo is working with NOVA Parks and the Fauquier and Loudoun Garden Club to create a walking trail that will interpret the diverse historic and natural resources along the abandoned Old Carolina Road.
Trout Stream Restoration Continues
This summer’s heavy and frequent rains widened the Robinson River and Cedar Run, where PEC and its partners are working to remove in-stream barriers and restore habitat for trout and other aquatic species. On the Robinson River, high river flows rearranged some of the in-stream step pools that were constructed to restore the riverbed as part of our culvert removal project in 2017. In early fall, during a break in the rain, PEC and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service adjusted the step pools to anchor them into the new banks of the river. High flows also eroded the crossing on Cedar Run to White Oak Canyon, and the National Park Service was forced to close the crossing. Fortunately, our partner Trout Unlimited was already planning to replace the crossing with a fish-friendly one. By year’s end, Trout Unlimited finalized a design for the new crossing and secured funding to replace it in spring of 2019
Two Farms Conserved along the Rapidan River
This year was a good one for land conservation along the Rapidan River! It started out strong with the Woyciks conserving Rose Hill Farm, situated just upstream of the Town of Rapidan, with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation in January. In late July, the Nixon family conserved Glenmary Farm further downstream at the base of Clark Mountain with PEC, Culpeper Soil & Water Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service. We salute the conservation efforts of the two families, which resulted in protecting almost 900 acres of working farmland and two miles of frontage along the Rapidan River. Both properties are within the area of the proposed Rapidan Rural Historic District.
James Madison’s Montpelier President Kat Imhoff announced plans to donate conservation easements on nearly 1,000 acres of the property to PEC, providing additional protection to the Madison Barbour Rural Historic District and the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway.
Orange is also making progress in its review of the Comprehensive Plan. In a recent county alert, we made you aware of the Planning Commission draft and some rather disturbing language, including language that sought to prevent easements in specific areas of the county. While most of this language was removed after citizens weighed in, we believe these sentiments may arise again as the review progresses to the Board.
We also worked with the Gordonsville community to expand its neighborhood park to an entire town block by working with its members to secure approximately half of the funding needed to acquire an old residential parcel. The town purchased the property in February and is scheduled to demolish the dilapidated structures on the site in November so they can incorporate it into the existing park. The project removes a visual barrier along the access corridor via Linney Street to help connect neighborhoods and enhance the historic character of the Town.
Community-wide Conservation Success!
PEC has engaged with community partners in Rappahannock County to promote conservation projects for the local Recreation Center and Park in Washington. The Rappahannock County Recreational Facilities Authority, RappFLOW, Rappahannock Landscaping, Boy Scout Troop #36, Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection, Old Rag Master Naturalists and Virginia Working Landscapes recently celebrated on October 27 the first “Community Conservation Day,” where new opportunities for native plant landscaping, forest management, wildlife habitat and dark skies were promoted.
Following a recommendation from the advisory committee to PEC’s Krebser Fund for Rappahannock County Conservation, PEC and the Piedmont Foundation made up to $50,000 available to landowners seeking to implement agricultural best management practices through the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District. Under existing Virginia Best Management Practice programs, landowners may be reimbursed up to 80 percent of the cost of adopting practices that protect water quality and improve soil health, like fencing to exclude livestock from streams or establish rotational grazing regimes. Now, through the financial aid of the Krebser Fund, landowners enrolled with District cost-share programs can receive up to 100 percent of their project’s reimbursable costs through the Soil and Water District.
This article was written featured in our Spring 2018 member newsletter, The Piedmont View.