The Comprehensive Plan of Prince William County and the current long-range plan for the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) both propose extending VRE, but the extension would go west to Gainesville-Haymarket. There are no plans by Prince William or VRE to provide commuter service south of the Broad Run station at the Manassas Airport.1
Prince William did leave a tiny crack in the door. The map of Future Transit Alternatives (after 2030…) includes a Transitway (Transit Mode – TBD) south of Broad Run, along with a light rail system north on Manassas on Route 28, plus extension of Metrorail Orange Line to Gainesville and Blue Line to Potomac Mills. Any source of funding for such pipe dreams was conveniently ignored…2
Back in 2003, VRE’s long-range plan did propose extending commuter rail service past Broad Run to Nokesville and Bealeton/Remington. The Fauquier County Comprehensive Plan still reflects that dream. However, the VRE System Plan 2040 (issued in 2014) abandoned previous plans to extend the commuter rail system south into Fauquier County. Instead of listing grandiose visions as if money might appear miraculously during the next 25 years, the 2014 plan chose to be realistic about priorties and to “focus on markets within the existing service area.”3
VRE made a smart decision.
VRE’s Operations Board decision to build its capacity within its existing service area increases the potential of converting the commuter rail system into a transit system.
Tonight (November 12), the City of Manassas Finance Committee considered a proposal to study the risks involved in opening Lake Manassas to public use. The vote was 2-1 to reject funding a $45,000 study, but the entire City Council will consider it on November 24.
The lake remains closed to public use, with $80,000 or so spent annually for the city police to patrol the lake and issue trespass citations. Even adjacent property owners are banned from putting a canoe on the lake.
Members of City Council have expressed fear, uncertainty and doubt about the safety of the water supply if public use was allowed. Fairfax Water long ago decided that public use was OK; it permits boats and fishing on Occoquan Reservoir. Even motorboats zip across Lake Jackson, located between Lake Manassas and Occoquan Reservoir (and part of the water supply for Fairfax/eastern Prince William).
A scientific study could answer the questions regarding the risk of public use, and put those risks into context. The City Council should also consider the benefits of advertising Manassas through the lake.
In 2011, the city spent over $625,000 to support the 150th anniversary of the Battle of First Manassas. Manassas collected less than $50,000 in increased taxes from that event – less than 10% of its investment – but also calculated $240,800 in “publicity value” from the broadcast coverage (and additional value from print, radio and internet reports).
The city claimed the subsidy was a smart investment because “the Sesquicentennial had the potential to garner significant media coverage for the City of Manassas.”
Anglers and boaters spend money too – and regular media coverage associating Manassas with outdoor recreation might have a similar impact…
|Now we know – the county’s Parks and Recreation Department supports converting publicly-owned parkland into a bus parking lot and garage at Catharpin Park.
There is no guarantee that Prince William County will keep open space or ballfields as “open space” or “ballfields.”
The parks people think building a JiffyLube on steroids is a perfectly fine use of public parkland.
Local residents are opposed. All county residents should be disappointed. If you care about Dove’s Landing, you should be alarmed.
What could the county develop at Dove’s Landing? The county could, “naturally,” endorse another garage and bus parking lot on parkland. A new low-income public housing development ? Hey, it’s a public use, a different county agency might want it, so housing could be A-OK with the Parks and Recreation Department and the Board of County Supervisors.
You say Dove’s Landing is protected ‘cuz it is in the Rural Area? No problem – so is Catharpin Park. After a Public Facility Review, the supervisors can approve anything, anywhere.
If an industrial garage is acceptable at Catharpin Park, what is not acceptable on other parkland? An office building for the Department of XYZ, instead of ballfields? A specialized landfill for demolition and construction debris, instead of a waterpark at Andrew Leitch? If there are no limits, then anything goes.
The only way to protect parkland in Prince William County is with enforceable conservation easements. Signing an easement that limits the ability of the supervisors to approve anything, anywhere, is not a new concept. The county has such easements on its historic sites and on some parks purchased with Federal funds. The Park Authority cut a deal with Angler Environmental to restore stream segments and create the Prince William Environmental Bank with permanent conservation easements.
Two county-owned parks are especially at risk: Dove’s Landing and Silver Lake. Both sites are currently intended for passive recreation uses and would qualify easily for protection under easements accepted by the Virginia Outdoor Foundation – at no cost to taxpayers.
When the county converted the Park Authority into the Parks and Recreation Department, the Board of County Supervisors gave $50,000 to a land trust based in Fairfax County to “protect” the restored stream segments. The benefit of that deal are questionable , except for political purposes.
County residents (and clean water resources) would be protected better if supervisors directed staff to pursue Virginia Outdoor Foundation conservation easements for Dove’s Landing and Silver Lake. Conservation easements would ensure that our two largest, undeveloped parks in Prince William are permanently preserved, and can not be converted into industrial sites or other inappropriate uses.
The “Open Space” Fraud Begins at Stone Haven – Hmmm…. Think It Will Continue Into the Rural Presevation Study?
Prince William County defines Open Space in the Comprehensive Plan (see page POS&T-24) as:
Land that is not dominated by man-made structures. It preserves natural or cultural resources, provides for passive recreation, is used for cultivated fields or forests, or exists in a natural and undeveloped state. Open space may include nature preserves, historic sites, farms, parks, forests, floodplains, wetlands, etc., and may include some structures, parking areas, roads, trails and facilities that support the use of the land.
“Some structures” is being interpreted so loosely by the Planning Department that the parking lot at Wal*Mart would qualify.
For example, the Stone Haven development application is proposing 1,650 homes and more than 1 million sq. ft. of commercial space on 864 acres between Linton Hall Road and Nisson Pavilion. The site is currently dominated by an established forest, where 35 specimen trees (typically, trees with a diameter greater than 30″) were found. Only 16 are proposed for protection and much of the promised open space does not meet the County’s definition.
Citizens need to fight the Planning Department (and often the elected supervisors…) to get a fair share of parkland, as new developments are approved. The proposed update to the Comprehensive Plan in 2006 pretended everything was just hunky-dory and business-as-usual was just fine, while the county’s population swelled far faster than the number of ballfields or opportunities for passive recreation.
In response, the Prince William Conservation Alliance led a long debate that concluded with creation of a new trails commission and a policy that the county would “Complete and maintain an up-to-date inventory of protected open space in Prince William County.”
Such an inventory is still missing in action, and the Planning Department is wheeling back to the bad ol’ days of “anything goes, Prince William has no standards, and even guidelines are loosey-goosey” development. The Planning Department is trying to create an open space loophole through which developers can maximize “yield” and profits from their projects, while the taxpayers are stuck with the bill.
The supervisors are requesting an extension of the time to sell bonds approved in 2006 to pay for parks and open space, as well as libraries and roads. You’d think the elected officials would also seek to obtain at least the minimum proffers for public facilities as new developments are approved so the taxpayers don’t subsidize the for-profit developers, but the Planning Department is undercutting that approach.
Which of the following do you think meet the official county definition of “open space”?
- Active recreation facilities
- Community recreation centers
- Power lines
- Stormwater management infrastructure
- Buffers along roads
- Middle schools
- None of the above
If you picked “none of the above,” think again. According to the staff report for the proposed Stone Haven development project, the County Planning Office agrees with the developer that items 1-6, above, qualify as open space in Prince William County. The county is trying to change from commitments of “Protected Open Space” and establish a new category, “Pretend Open Space.”
It’s a fraud, unless you think the proposed bus parking lot next to Catharpin Park is no different from the park itself.
Yeah, the entire acreage dedicated to a middle school, including buildings and parking lots, is “open space.” Really. So is that 15′ wide strip of grass between the road and the parking lot. When you walk through the doors of Chinn Recreation Center, you’re not indoors – you’re walking into open space, as proposed by the Planning Department. Really.
As Sherlock Holmes would say to Watson, “The game is afoot.” The same efforts to disguise the number of acres dedicated to public parks is underway for open space at Stone Haven, and that offers a clear clue about upcoming proposals for “preserving” the Rural Area…
Landowners can sell or donate their rights to develop a parcel, while retaining ownership of the land itself for remaining purposes (often as farmland, forest or open space).
Conservation easements are land deeds that transfer some property rights to a qualified non-government agency (land trust) or public agency, such as the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF).
Typically, landowners sell/donate the rights to develop most or all of the houses permitted by local zoning on their property. If zoning permits 10 houses to be constructed on a 100-acre parcel, the landowner could retain the right to build one house but sell/donate the development rights to the other 9 houses to a land trust.
With lower development potential, the value of the 100-acre parcel would drop substantially. Landowners are compensated through payments from Purchase of Development Rights Programs, tax credits, or both so the sale of a conservation easement makes financial sense to the private property owner.
Land trusts have permanent legal authority to enforce the terms of conservation easements. If a future owner of a parcel with a conservation easement attempts to build an excessive number of houses or violate other terms of the deal (such as preservation of stream buffers), the land trust can go to court to enforce the terms of the deal.
Most conservation easements keep land private, but could be written to authorize public use on trails or even the entire parcel. When the objective is to limit development in order to preserve natural or historical values, a conservation easement may be appropriate.
There were 384 responses to the county’s survey on the Rural Area, and whether current policy to preserve that area for agriculture and low-density development should be altered.
Developers propose every year to bust open the zoning and allow more houses. The Rural Preservation Study now being conducted by the Planning Department could be just a stalking horse to revise existing zoning.
After all, county staff used to refer to the Rural Area as “unzoned,” assuming future rezoning for sprawl was inevitable.
However, county residents have supported the Rural Area planning that has been in effect for the last 15 years. The boundary line has been modified only once to permit a major development (Avendale).
Here is a clue about public support for keeping the Rural Area rural: in 2013, only 11 out of the 384 responses suggested the Rural Area should metamorphose into future subdivisions:
UPDATED (November 26): based on the minutes of the November 7 meeting of the 5 agencies signing the Programmatic Agreement, it appears VDOT has been pressured into providing more $$$ for land acquisition to mitigate impacts of Bi-County Parkway. If you’re looking for mitigation of the excessive noise and traffic impacts on Manassas Battlefield Historic District… don’t hold your breath.
There’s movement on the Bi-County Parkway. On November 7, some – but not all – of the potential signers of the Section 106 Programmatic Agreement met.
The standard VDOT response to public opposition is modeled on Muhammed Ali’s strategy in the ring, playing rope-a-dope and extending the decision process until the opposition is too tired to continue. However, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the National Park Service (NPS) are anxious to get the Bi-County Parkway Programmatic Agreement signed before the current governor and his Secretary of Transportation leave office in January. Read more…