Renewing the “Adoption” of Cedar Run

freedatcedarrunAs part of the mission of the Prince William Conservation Alliance “to explore, enjoy, and protect our natural areas, and increase community involvement in stewardship opportunities,” we recently renewed our commitment to adopt the reach of Cedar Run adjacent to Merrimac Farm.

We partner with the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District. It has an “Adopt-a-Stream” program, where volunteers agree to a two-year commitment to clean litter from a stream segment.

Many of PWCA’s members and friends recognize Cedar Run as the stream whose fertile flood plain provides the home for the beautiful bluebells and other wildflowers that flourish there.

We’ve already done our first clean-up for the year.  We’re happy to report the litter along Cedar Run’s banks and floodplain has been removed.

As of February 27, the bluebells were already popping up, getting ready for the April 8 Bluebell Festival!

Stay tuned for opportunities to help keep Cedar Run clean, just one small way PWCA demonstrates our commitment to protect watersheds in Prince William County.

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Things to Consider re: Mid-County Park and Estate Homes Comprehensive Plan Amendment on March 6, 2018

hoe– This is not a proposal from a long-time landowner who was affected by 1998 Comp Plan.  The developer made a speculative gamble when he bought the land in 2003.  He knew then that 118 homes, as proposed, far exceeded the zoning or the development projected in the future in the Comprehensive Plan.

– The Development Area and the Rural Area, defined in the 1998 Comprehensive Plan, were intended to remain separated by a permanent urban growth boundary.  Prince William County reviews and updates its Comprehensive Plan every 10 years. Previous plan revisions had expanded the area to be developed, but in 1998 the supervisors “drew the line.”   They decided to stop extending sewer lines further away from the waste treatment plants.

The decision to adopt a permanent urban growth boundary was designed to steer development in future decades by upgrading public infrastructure within the Development Area.  The 10-acre lot size in the Rural Area was designed to keep the area as a permanent, low-density rural area.  The adoption of the urban growth boundary ended the old pattern of treating the western part of the county as a “land bank,” with new development to be authorized later.

– The Mid-County Park and Estate Homes proposal is not a “good project.”  It is a camel’s nose, inviting every other developer to propose future amendments to extend sewer lines and developer denser subdivisions with more houses across the entire Rural Area.  That might enrich some land speculators, but would defeat the benefits of the urban growth boundary, require higher taxes to pay for widening roads and building more public infrastructure.  High-priced houses at  Mid-County Park and Estate Homes will still trigger tax increases, as more proposals for sewers and houses leads to sprawl  and future road bonds.

– This plan is inconsistent with the county’s requirements for initiating a Comprehensive Plan Amendment:
Economic Development Opportunities: this housing development is not an economic development project involving targeted industries, and will not attract companies or bring new professional and other high-paying jobs
Diversity of Housing: proposes just more of the same, more single-family residences in an area of single-family residences
Transit-Oriented   Development: development would not be transit-compatible because density is too low and location is not within walking distance of PRTC bus stop or VRE station.
Compatible Land Uses: Long Branch forms the boundary between Rural Area and Development Area, so it encroaches across the boundary and is incompatible with Rural Area designation
Environment and Open Space: Extending sewer and tripling the number of houses does not protect the environment or maintain open space.  Clustering 33 houses on the property would be environmentally sensitive, but building 108 houses in any configuration here fails to protect the resources.
Mixed-Use   Neighborhoods: this project is the exact opposite of the mixed use, live-work-play communities envisioned in the county’s Strategic Plan and Comprehensive Plan
Public Services in the Development Area: this project is the exact opposite of the strategy to locate future public services within the Development Area, giving priority to areas of economic development or redevelopment initiatives.
Adequate Level of Service: this project is outside a “small area plan” boundary, so the developer is no longer required to proffer any mitigation of impacts on schools, transportation, or other public services
Road, Pedestrian, and Transit Facilities: this project will put another 100 cars/hour on the road at rush hour, adding to traffic congestion
Sector Plans: this project is an isolated proposal, a stand-alone exercise outside of the sector plans and small area plans used to address proposed changes in land use in a coordinated way
Quality of Life: this project simply expands suburban sprawl, damaging the Rural Area and failing to move Prince William forward towards its vision as a distinctive, live-work-plan community

– The Rural Preservation Study does not justify the Mid-County Park and Estate Homes Comprehensive Plan Amendment.   The Rural Preservation Study is just a contractor’s deliverable, and has been sitting on a shelf in the Planning Office since 2014.  It has never been adopted by the Planning Commission or the Board of County Supervisors.  It is not part of the Comprehensive Plan, and is not a valid basis for amending it. The Rural Preservation Study might be relevant for the update of the Comprehensive Plan in 2019 – but in that case, an equivalent Development Area Study should also be completed.

–  Adding sewer and houses in the Rural Area is development, not Rural Area Preservation.

When There Is Not Enough $$$ in the Budget – Why Add More Work, Now?

contOn March 6, the Board of County Supervisors will be asked to transfer $100,000 to the Planning Office

In 2016, the supervisors directed the planning staff to complete 9 “Small Area Plans” as part of the Comprehensive Plan update.  However, there are not enough planners working for the county to do all that planning.

Logically enough, the Planning Department has requested extra funding to hire consultants.  With $100,000 in extra resources, the Planning Office can complete preparations and the supervisors can vote as scheduled in 2019 on the update of the Comprehensive Plan.

So… why would the supervisors add an extra straw to the camel’s back and initiate the proposed MidCounty Park and Estate Homes Comprehensive Plan Amendment on March 6?

Who will pay for the staff to do the extra work for this amendment, one year before the scheduled update of the entire plan?

What’s the logic of doing another amendment to the Comprehensive Plan, now?

Yup, the Camel Will Try to Stick Its Nose Into the Tent on March 6, 2018

a1For the third time, for the third time, yes for the third time a developer is asking the supervisors to initiate the Mid-County Park & Estate Homes Comprehensive Plan Amendment.

That would allow building 118 houses.  Since 32-33 houses have been authorized there since 1998, the developer is asking for a massive increase in density.

Busting the Rural Area boundary would ignore the county’s long-term growth strategy in the Strategic Plan and the Comprehensive Plan.  It’s an outdated, dumb growth, get-rich-at-the-expense-of-the-taxpayer proposal.

County supervisors determined in 1998 that the suburban sprawl which started after World War II was no longer acceptable.  Taxes were climbing too high, traffic congestion was increasing, and something had to be done.

The “something” was a long-term solution to a long-term problem.  The 1998 Comprehensive Plan established a long-term urban growth boundary.

It defined a Rural Area for low-density development, and a Development Area where it would be cost-effective to provide public services for new houses.  As the county’s population increased, supervisors would need to fund new infrastructure – but concentrating it in the Development Area would minimize the need to raise property taxes.

In 2008, the last update of the Comprehensive Plan re-affirmed the benefits of maintaining the urban growth boundary.

Shaping growth is a long-term game.  County supervisors use Comprehensive Plans to shape how the county should evolve in the next 20 years.  The plans get technical updates regularly, and a thorough review every ten years.

Next update, due to be completed in 2019, will require another defense of the urban growth boundary.

Obviously, some land speculators hope to re-start sprawl on March 6, without even waiting for the discussion that’s scheduled for the Comprehensive Plan update next year. Does anyone think the Mid-County Park & Estate Homes proposal will be the only request to add more houses in the Rural Area, and abandon the Strategic Plan?

If we start scattered residential development now, we will add traffic on our rural roads.  Funding to widen local roads will never get ranked high enough to qualify for state and Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) funding, so sprawl will force the county to issue road bonds again and pay extra taxes again.  It will be 1998, all over again.

Sprawl raises taxes – so if you want to protect the Rural Area and your wallet, tell your supervisors how you feel.

Supervisors are scheduled to decide on this Comprehensive Plan Amendment at the 2:00pm meeting on March 6.

If you want to share your perspective in advance, you can contact Corey Stewart, Frank Principi, Ruth Anderson, John Jenkins, Pete Candland, Maureen Caddigan,  Jeanine Lawson, and Marty Nohe at
cstewart@pwcgov.org, fprincipi@pwcgov.org, randerson@pwcgov.org, jjenkins@pwcgov.org, gainesville@pwcgov.org, mcaddigan@pwcgov.org, jlawson@pwcgov.org, mnohe@pwcgov.org

 

What We Told the Board of County Supervisors re: Mid-County Park & Estate Homes Comprehensive Plan Amendment

Dear Supervisors,

The Prince William Conservation Alliance supports implementation of the county’s Strategic Vision, to create live-work-play communities in Prince William. We support increasing jobs within our county, by encouraging growth at places such as Innovation and along Route 1.

Prince William Conservation Alliance supports minimizing future traffic congestion by constructing new housing on transit corridors in the Development Area closest to the job centers in Fairfax, Arlington, and the District of Columbia.

We support investing in new public facilities where they can serve the greatest number of people at the lowest cost, in the area designated for development since 1998.

We support lower property taxes, by incentivizing growth in the Development Area where it is cost-effective to provide new fire/police stations, schools, libraries, and other services that must be expanded as population grows.

We support designating agriculture and agri-tourism as a “targeted industry” for economic development in that part of our county furthest away from the job centers, maintaining it as our Rural Area.

We encourage you to do the same, by rejecting the proposal to initiate the Mid-County Park & Estate Homes Comprehensive Plan Amendment on March 6. Do not add more houses in the Rural Area.  Do not bust the urban growth boundary that has existed in every Comprehensive Plan and was formally adopted in 1998.

Our county’s Strategic Plan highlights that quality of life is a primary factor that “families, individuals and businesses rely upon when choosing where to locate…” The

Comprehensive Plan is designed for Prince William to evolve into “a role model in many areas… from the provision of public services to protecting our natural resources.”

That requires steering development in the Development Area, and protecting the Rural Area. The alternative is to encourage suburban sprawl. In 1998 the supervisors recognized that sprawl development sabotages transit, raises property taxes, increases traffic congestion, and reduces the distinctive quality of life that makes Prince William competitive when recruiting businesses to provide local jobs.

There are costs, and there are no benefits for the public, if you abandon the growth strategy used for the last 20 years. Stay the course.

Save the Rural Area (Again!) on March 6

mid
On March 6, the county supervisors are poised to decide on yet another attack against the urban growth boundary adopted in 1998.

A developer has requested a Comprehensive Plan Amendment for a subdivision in the Rural Area,.  According to the Generalized Development Plan, 108 118 houses could be constructed on a parcel planned for 32 homes.

Supervisor’s vote is reportedly scheduled for March 6, though that agenda item is not formally locked in yet.

The “Mid-County Park & Estate Homes” proposal is the third attempt to bust the Rural Area boundary at that site. The developer purchased the land in 2003, long after he knew the allowed density was for 32 homes.

You can make a nice profit building 32 homes on property bought with the land prices from 15 years ago. Evidently, a nice land speculation profit is not enough for some developers.  The county’s zoning on that parcel has been in place for two decades, but he dreams of even more, more, more houses.

Supervisors previously rejected amending the Comprehensive Plan at this site because adding 76 unplanned houses there would provide no public benefits. The private developer would get windfall benefits, while the public would get stuck with the costs of sprawl.

Sprawl is “dumb growth.” It ultimately increases property taxes, because it is more expensive to provide public services (fire/police stations, for example).

That’s why the supervisors adopted the Rural Area and Development Area boundaries in 1998. Voters were aroused by steadily increasing property taxes. The county’s population had boomed, and it was clear that focusing growth in the Development Area would minimize the costs to provide new public infrastructure.

Now the supervisors are being asked to change the course followed for the last 20 years, start allowing unplanned growth in the Rural Area, and eventually increase property taxes to support scattered development.

The “Mid-County Park & Estate Homes” development being considered on March 6 is not a proposal for a park. It’s a proposal to authorize unplanned houses, to trigger a surge of land speculation in the Rural Area, and to repeat the tax headache face by supervisors in 1998.

The supervisors should reject this development proposal – for the third time.

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The Best Bypass to “Fix Route 28” Does Not Require Building A New Highway Through Bull Run Parkland

The traffic congestion on Route 28 is unacceptable, and the Route 28 Corridor Feasibility Study  is underway.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) and Commonwealth Transportation Board are poised to fund widening Route 28 in Fairfax, creating new interchanges to eliminate stoplights – and potentially a brand new highway extending Godwin Road over Bull Run.

The new four-lane highway is the obvious preference of the Department of Transportation in Prince William County.  The county’s transportation officials see more-bigger roads as the solution to every mobility problem, and endorse every highway that can be sketched on a map.

Their choice is Option 2B, extending Godwin Drive from Route 234 (Sudley Road) across Bull Run:

Option 2B

Option 2B, extending Godwin Road across Bull Run

County officials are not born with infinite wisdom and do not always have the right answer.  In this case, they do not even have the right question.  This is not a play written by Shakespeare, where “2B or not 2B, that is the question.”

Fortunately, the process to get Federal funding requires public involvement and the consideration of alternatives beyond the preferences of county staff.  More lanes and fewer traffic lights are obviously part of the solution, but building a new road across Bull Run is not.

Best place to start before spending hundreds of millions on a new road: define the problem.

Two streams of traffic get clogged on Route 28:
1) vehicles going north from Manassas to I-66
2) vehicles coming up Route 28 from Fauquier County line that go through Manassas, and then join the congestion from Manassas to I-66

There are two separate solutions to those two problems.

Manassas to I-66

Widening Route 28 north of Bull Run in Fairfax where the corridor has been planned for more lanes, and eliminating stoplights with revised interchanges and overpasses, will speed traffic between Manassas and I-66 significantly.

South of Bull Run, the potential to widen Route 28 between Manassas-Yorkshire is limited by the number of commercial operations on either side of the road.  Destroying businesses in Manassas/Manassas Park/Prince William, so commuters can drive to jobs in other jurisdictions, will not help the local tax base or local employment opportunities.

It may be feasible to re-engineer some of the frustrating interchanges in Manassas, Manassas Park, and Prince William to minimize the delay from stoplights.

From Fauquier County Headed North

The best way to get the traffic to bypass Manassas is… (drum roll, please) use the existing Route 234 Bypass to bypass Manassas.

Traffic coming north from Fauquier County can go 5 miles to reach I-66 via the Route 234 Bypass.  That road is planned to be a 6-lane highway with overpasses between Route 28 and I-66.

purple squares show planned overpasses from Route 28/234 Bypass (black circle) to I-66

purple squares show planned overpasses from Route 28/234 Bypass (black circle) to I-66

Even if Option 2B was built to German autobahn standards, the 5-mile drive via Route 234 Bypass will always be quicker than the 9-mile drive via Route 28 at Centreville.

The goal is to get vehicles to I-66, right?  Express Mobility Partners is spending $3 billion or so to upgrade that interstate to move traffic.  Route 234 Bypass is a straight shot from Route 28 to I-66.  In contrast, Option 2B would be a long, winding road.  It would be slower for drivers, and waaaay more expensive for taxpayers.

traffic from south of Manassas can get to I-66 (blue dots) without clogging Route 28 in Fairfax County (yellow dots)

traffic from south of Manassas can get to I-66 (blue dots) without clogging Route 28 in Fairfax County (yellow dots)

And why would we want to stick even more cars on Route 28 north of Bull Run?

With Option 2B, 8 lanes of traffic would have to squeeze into the 6-lane Route 28 corridor in Fairfax County.  That would just create a new bottleneck and create more congestion on the route to Centreville.

Eliminating stoplights on the Route 234 Bypass will help make Innovation more attractive for development.  The Innovation site is intended to be a place for businesses to bring jobs to Prince William, and to evolve into a live-work-play center – so let’s invest there.

We can divert traffic away from the chokepoint of downtown Manassas without building a new road across Bull Run.  No houses, no wetlands, and no historic Civil War battlefields need to be destroyed by constructing Option 2B.

Bull Run, upstream of Mitchell's Ford

Bull Run, upstream of Mitchell’s Ford

When the environmental analysis of the “Fix Route 28” proposals gets serious, transportation planners will be confronted with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and Section 4f of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966.

Both require close examination of feasible alternatives before blasting new roads through parks.  The Civil War Trust and NOVAParks have already made clear their objections.

The question is “how do we minimize future – as well as current – congestion.”
Option 2B is not the answer.

There is a clear alternative: improve the existing Route 234 bypass to bypass Manassas, rather than build a new highway cutting through neighborhoods, sensitive riparian areas, and the 1861 battlefield.

(Yes, more Virginia Railway Express service from Broad Run station could reduce future congestion as population grows, but that’s another blog post.)  

Option 2B crosses through Bull Run Regional Park

Option 2B cuts through Bull Run Regional Park

If “Transform I-66” Is Supposed to Create a Multi-Mobile Corridor – Ugh, What About Bikes and Pedestrians in Prince William?

dottedlineVDOT advertises the $3 billion Transform I-66 project as more than a road project:
Work is underway to transform Northern Virginia’s Interstate 66 into a multimodal corridor that moves more people, provides reliable trips and offers new travel options.

Good vision – except the non-motorized part in Prince William is all hat and no cattle.

The project’s contribution to a shared use path west of Fairfax County is just a few lines on a map.

Dotted lines for “duh, don’t know who might ever make this a real trail” cross Bull Run.  Unless you’re paddling a bike with a swim bladder, that dotted line means end-of-trail-and-start-of-platitudes-and-promises.

East of Bull Run, there’s real money being invested in building a trail suitable for pedestrians and bikers.  West of Bull Run… nada.

VDOT blames Prince William County.  The Comprehensive Plan failed to include a path for non-motorized travel in the I-66 corridor.  If the county did not plan it, then there must be no need and VDOT won’t recommend it.  (Think that logic would apply to the Bi-County Parkway?  Hey, it’s not in the Comprehensive Plan either…)

If you don’t play the game, you have no chance of winning.  So Prince William Conservation Alliance submitted the following comments to VDOT, in the idealistic hopes that citizen feedback might somehow affect the final decision:

The Prince William Conservation Alliance supports the planning and construction of bike/pedestrian paths in the I-66 corridor as part of the Transform I-66 project.  

We have two comments:

1) The proposal to end construction of multi-mobile paths at the Fairfax County border, excluding Prince William County, is short-sighted and inadequate.  
The I-66 project should provide a bridge over Bull Run to facilitate a connection from Fairfax County to Balls Ford Road and Vandor Lane.  
2) The Transform I-66 project should construct a bike/pedestrian path where I-66 crosses over Route 234 business.  
Building new infrastructure at that overpass, without creating a bike/pedestrian path linking the southern and northern sides of Route 234, would be transportation planning malpractice.
Currently, I-66 isolates the Northern Virginia Community College and Manassas National Battlefield Park from the development on Sudley Road.  Pedestrians and bikers going from the City of Manassas to the community college or park visitor center must go far out of their way to Groveton Road, in order to get across I-66..  
It would be flat wrong to build more bridges which would perpetuate rather than correct the problem at the Route 234 Business overpass.

Here’s the roundabout route that bikers and pedestrians must take to get to Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) from Manassas to bypass the I-66/Business 234 interchange (yellow circle):
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Community: 1, Buckland Bypass: 0

buckThe room at Haymarket Elementary was packed with 150+ people.  A significant percentage wore T-shirts expressing opposition to the latest proposal for a Buckland Bypass,a  4-lane divided highway west of Haymarket. concerned that Prince William County was proposing (again) to build a Buckland Bypass.

Fauquier officials made clear that they did not support the Buckland Bypass (which would start in their county) now, and never have.

The residents of Cerro Gordo and nearby neighborhoods made their points clearly, politely, forcefully, and successfully last night.  All but perhaps one were clearly opposed.  The road would displace residents, transform the character of the neighborhoods, potentially dry up wells – and the costs would far exceed the benefits.

Jeanine Lawson, Brentsville District Supervisor, commented that they “killed it.”  She predicted with confidence that there will be no Comprehensive Plan Amendment to initiate a Buckland Bypass.

Earlier in 2017, the county floated a proposal for a new highway linking Route 29 and I-66, so commuters driving north from Stafford, Culpeper, and Fauquier would be able to cut through Prince William’s Rural Area in order to get to work.
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The county’s project was an echo of previous proposals for a Western Bypass or Outer Beltway.  Various versions of new roads have been justified by the supposed need to get heavy trucks from I-95 to I-81 quicker, or to move commuters to the west before they drive eastward towards DC, or… well, pick a rationalization, they’re all equally valid.

The fundamental push has been from developers who want to by land cheap, get it rezoned to “bust” the Rural Area protections, and then build more subdivisions.  If only the government would build new roads, then traffic congestion would simply evaporate.  Then everyone would support  more residential development on the periphery of the urban core, right?

Reality suggests otherwise.  I-66 has been widened to Haymarket, and a new interchange completed.  A new Route 29 interchange at Linton Hall has been built.  That did not cause traffic to evaporate – and the “just build more roads; that will fix it this time” argument failed last night.

The Buckland Bypass was only a skirmish.  It can be compared to the Buckland Races in 1863 – important for those directly affected, but not a conclusive engagement in the war.  The real challenge, protecting the Rural Area, still lies ahead.

buck2proposed “short routes” discussed at the October 10 Stakeholder’s Meeting

Manassas Starts to Give City Parks the “Green Light”

manassaswoodsThe City of Manassas mothballed its parks management operation during the 2008 recession, but it’s coming back to life.

In 2016 it completed a Parks, Recreation and Cultural Needs Assessment and Facilities Plan and a Master Plan for Dean Park.  In 2017, the city started a plan for Stonewall Park.

The planning has defined “Levels of Service” for active recreation.  The city has identified how many more ballfields, basketball courts, etc. are needed as the population grows.  The challenge is not a small one.

boxturtleWhat’s missing, so far, is the recognition that the city also has natural resources to protect in its parks. The initial proposal for Stonewall Park would clear some of the mature forest there, with trees perhaps 75 years old, to add a rectangular ballfield.

Stonewall Park is not a wilderness area, but it’s special. Not many places in Manassas offer a chance to walk underneath a canopy of old oak trees. The forest at Liberia is much younger, for example. Cannon Branch Fort also offers a rare experience to walk in the woods in a city park  There are still some trees left along Winters Branch, despite the recent city project to armor the streambank with stones.

At Stonewall Park, he city has the potential to consider how to replace the non-native Bradford pear trees with species that support wildlife, especially birds. Manassas has many back yards that offer a specific type of habitat and attract specific types of birds, but the city has few places that support critters that rely upon forest habitat. The plants the city installed around the parking lots, when the park was first developed, are only slightly better for native birds and butterflies than the cell tower disguised as a tree.

Manassas could also look into options for improving stormwater management at Stonewall Park. Currently, runoff from the park carries pollution downstream with no controls. It’s one reason Bull Run is on the state’s dirty water list of impaired streams.

Runoff from the urban area also puts the Occoquan River, Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Bay on that dirty water list.  Ugh.

It’s still early in the planning process for Manassas parks.  City staff and elected officials seem receptive to comments.

If you want the city to inventory its natural assets and manage the trees as much as the ballfields, now is a good time to say what you want – submit your comments regarding Stonewall Park.

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