Mow-Cow to the Rescue!

Snow Cow logoThe 30″ of snow that fell a week ago… well, it’s good that it disappeared slowly.

A quick melt would have sent a quick pulse of runoff that could overload local creeks, delivering a surge sediment and pollution as stormwater raced down to the Potomac River.

A slow melt helped to recharge groundwater supplies, rather than damage surface streams.

But slow snow was a problem.  Over 80 members of the Prince William Conservation Alliance had RSVP’d that they were coming to the Winter Party on January 30.

That meant lots of cars looking for a place to park, and a foot of snow was not evaporating, sublimating, or melting away to free up the parking spaces. (In suburban Prince William County, it’s ironic but typical that even conservation meetings require driving to get from hither to yon.)

How to make room for those cars?  Shoveling was an option – but a few hours of effort made clear that it would require another few days to clear spaces for the expected crowd.

Hark!  What’s that sound?  Was it a bugle signalling the arrival of the cavalry?

Why yes, though the sound was really closer to a scrunch-bang-scrunch.   It was the leader of the Mow-Cow lawn service team which, in the winter, morphs into Snow-Cow.

The cavalry was the founder/president plowing snow and clearing parking spaces so the party could happen.

Sure, it was his day off.  Yes, he’d gotten home from work after 1:00am that morning – but good people do good deeds, even when it’s inconvenient.  It’s a “Udderly Dependable” operation.


Before the Snow-Cow cavalry arrived



What’s Happening at Silver Lake?

“Oh, they have destroyed it.”

That is what one recent visitor to Silver Lake Regional Park in Haymarket commented, as she walked to the platform on the shoreline.  She saw a landscape of mud and old trees, with leaves rotting away at the bottom of what was once a beautiful lake.


Silver Lake, January 15, 2016

Silver Lake has been drained for a dam rehabilitation project. Like all construction projects, it is aesthetically chaotic, even ugly.  It does not resemble the “jewel in western Prince William,” as promised when the county decided to have the Park Authority manage the 230-acre site in 2009.

Prince William County government has a reputation of bulldozing first and checking for natural  and cultural resources after the fact or not at all. Two citizen members of the Historical Commission resigned in protest last September, after the county decided to build a fire station on top of a family cemetery.

At Silver Lake itself, the Prince William County Department of Parks & Recreation has ignored the presence of vernal pools essential for frog and salamander breeding, and expanded a horse trail to create a dirt road for patrol vehicles through that special habitat.

However, in this case the draining of the lake is both essential and temporary.


Silver Lake Regional Park is located on the western edge of Prince William County

The 29-foot high earthen dam at Silver Lake is classified as having High Hazard Potential.  It must be reconstructed to conform to Virginia’s Dam Safety Regulations.  The spillway is being replaced so a heavy storm will not cause the dam to break and flood homes downstream.


replacing the old spillway (left) required draining Silver Lake

The lake has been lowered to construct needed control structures and provide additional storage to prevent flooding. There are concerns about impacts to aquatic life;  the lowering of the water level during the winter months was intended to help minimize those impacts.

Work on the Silver Lake dam is expected to be completed in June 2016.  Cost is budgeted at $2.5 million.


water will be restored to Silver Lake once the dam repair is finished in Summer, 2016

Madera Farm – The Backstory

January 20, 2016 UPDATE:  The Board of County Supervisors approved the addition of Madera to the Agricultural and Forestal District on January 19 in a 7-0 vote, but only after the landowner committed to cancel the request for a Special Use Permit.  

The Gainesville District supervisor negotiated that in advance.  The Prince William Conservation Alliance spoke at the public hearing in support of commercial agriculture, rather than industrial operations, in the Rural Area. 

Normally, adding a farm in western Prince William’s Rural Area to an Agricultural and Forestal District would be a routine event. The county established that land use classification in 1973 to facilitate preservation of farms and forests.

However, Madera “Farm” is not a normal agricultural operation. It resembles more closely an industrial operation, grinding mulch and processing construction and demolition debris.


Adding Madera to an adjacent Agricultural and Forestal District would undercut efforts to maintain commercial agricultural operations in Prince William County. It would reduce the credibility of actual farmers working to preserve farmland, and open the door to increased housing and retail strip shopping districts in the county’s Rural Area. Read more »

Blackburn: A Pre-Thanksgiving Turkey That Ought to Be Terminated With Extreme Prejudice

wheelerThe Board of County Supervisors postponed the original May 12, 2015 date for considering the Blackburn rezoning at the Route 234/I-66 interchange (the interchange with Koons Honda, not the bypass…).

It’s back on the agenda, this time for September 29 November 17 (yeah, stretched out past the election).  The supervisors have another opportunity to reject this bad project.

The Planning Department still recommends denial.  As noted in the staff report, the Blackburn proposal still has the same problems – massive amount of residential development, minimal offsetting benefits from commercial development.  More congestion on local roads, more-crowded school classrooms, higher taxes to subsidize services to residential development – hey, what’s not to like about this turkey?

Prince William needs to attract jobs to Prince William; that’s why Regional Employment Center makes sense at the I-66 interchange.  That land has some of the best potential for commercial development that provides local jobs, assuming the county implemented an economic development strategy other than “ugh, can we build more houses?”

A vote in favor of Blackburn would be a vote in favor of a windfall profit for the landowner selling the parcel.  A vote in favor of Blackburn would stick it to local taxpayers, giving them indigestion in the wallet, in the classroom, and in the car for many generations to come.   Sure, the next election is 4 years from now – but why would any elected supervisor think residential-heavy development was suitable for that location?

VRE to Haymarket… Who Benefits?

VREVRE Community Meeting!
Update: at the meeting, VRE displayed but did not highlight its exhibit on the number of trains per day.  The exhibit was used to create the inaccurate impression that a Haymarket extension would somehow increase the number of trains using the Manassas Line.  If anything, spending money to build new track would reduce the capital funding available to buy new trains.

Tonight… Tuesday, Nov. 10, 6-8 p.m. at Gainesville Middle School, 8001 Limestone Drive.

Bottom Line: VRE appears to be seeking public support for an extension to Gainesville/Haymarket. It’s a bait-and-switch sales pitch – make people think an extension to Haymarket will increase the number of trains per day.

If anything, spending capital funding on new track instead of buying new trainsets would reduce the potential for increasing the number of VRE trains running daily on Manassas Line.

A legitimate alternatives analysis should include:

  • not building any extension of track, and instead investing in new trainset.
  • not building any station at Haymarket that will induce additional demand from Culpeper, Fauquier, Warren, and Page counties.
  • not building a large parking capacity at any new station, but instead building multiple park-and-shuttle lots nearer to subdivisions so commuters in single occupancy vehicles won’t clog local highways at rush hour.

VRE should consider the alternative of building a new spur track into Innovation Town Center or north of current line, where Vulcan quarry is reaching end of its life and will be converted into water storage bank soon. A new end-of-line station at Innovation/Vulcan quarry could incentivize a high-density town center, and increase TOD potential there!

Prince William County has the opportunity to serve as a 21st century role model for smart transit growth, but the current VDOT plan demonstrates we have a long way to go!

Cell Tower Proposed for Catharpin Road, Rural Crescent

Guest Post by Melanie Kaminski

Thank you for the opportunity to share our concerns over the 145 foot, plus 20 extra feet anytime they want it, fake mono-pine that will tower 100 feet plus above the natural tree line at 5513 Catharpin Road, in the Rural Crescent.

Community Wireless Services (CWS) has a 10-year old lease with the landowner and has decided we have poor coverage in the immediate area. Our neighborhood, Oak Valley, is where the majority of those in this so called gap live. We went door to door and a majority of homeowners signed a petition that they did not want the cell tower.

We have service provider maps and our own field testing shows there is good to excellent cell phone coverage. It may not be 5 bars everywhere, but it is fine for us!  We chose to live here because of the rural nature of this area and a commitment of the county to preserve this as stated in their comprehensive plan.

The County even has a Telecommunications Chapter in the Comprehensive Plan, which this application by CWS does not line up with!  This site is the least favorable, according to that plan due to its agriculture and rural designation.  CWS has asked for three waivers for improper set-backs of the tower. It sits in a valley which makes it a poor choice. Read more »

Like Higher Taxes and Long Commutes? Then You’ll Like Rezoning Blackburn on May 12…

recThere’s a direct link between economic development, traffic congestion, property taxes, and land conservation.

If we zone parcels for offices, recruit businesses to those locations, then Prince William residents can get to jobs without commuting through traffic jams in Fairfax County.   50% of Prince William’s workers drive to jobs outside the county, and 100% of commuters grumble about traffic.

New jobs reduce the residential property tax burden too.   In job-rich Arlington County, residents pay only 50% of the property taxes. In Prince William County, residents pay over 80% of property taxes because so little commercial development has occurred here.

So you’d think the Prince William supervisors would be focused on getting commercial development at the I-66/Route 234 interchange. It’s the closest one to Fairfax County, and the place with the highest potential to create a reverse commute. That’s why the area is planned as Regional Employment Center (REC).

So why are the county supervisors planning to rezone the Blackburn property there to build 415 houses and require almost no commercial development? That rezoning would sacrifice a great opportunity to create local jobs and local tax revenue.

The idea of building houses there – well, it stinks. If you want to reduce the burden of taxes on homeowners, if you want to generate more revenue to fund schools and other service, if you want to minimize the commuting nightmare by creating local jobs – you would not use one of the most attractive parcels for economic development at the I-66 interchange for residential development.

Conservation is the wise use of natural resources. Rezoning Blackburn for residential use would qualify as a waste, not as a wise use of land.

Funeral for Vampire? (Update on the Bi-County Parkway)

bi-countysprawlway The headline is “Bi-County Parkway project is dead.”  Maybe, but it’s only in stasis right now. There was a press conference held today at Sudley United Methodist Church to announce that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is no longer pursuing completion of the project – but hey, it was April 1…

Public opposition to the road became clear quickly. State officials took the lead in stopping the road, overcoming support from local supervisors, Loudoun County developers, the National Park Service, and officials at Dulles Airport who speculated that the highway would increase the value of airport land on Route 50 before that property is developed.

VDOT went so far as to run an advertising campaign to build support for the road with messages placed on top of local gas pumps, but that use of public funds backfired. Del. Bob Marshall noted at the press conference that the best way to ensure the project was not restarted was for local officials to remove the Bi-County Parkway from the county’s Comprehensive Plan.  Otherwise, like vampires and zombies, the road could be revived later and the approval/funding process re-started.

Pete Candland is expected to propose a Comprehensive Plan Amendment next Tuesday to remove the Bi-County Parkway from the County’s Plan. (You won’t find Bi-County Parkway in The Transportation Chapter of the county’s comprehensive plan refers to the Bi-County Parkway as the Route 234 Bypass – North, PA-13 on page 25.)  If a majority of the Board of County Supervisors act to delete the road, then re-starting the project becomes much much harder and the “Bi-County Parkway project is dead” claim is more realistic.

One other stake could be driven through the vampire’s heart.  If Prince William County started a Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program like Fauquier County, then properties along the route of the proposed Bi-County Parkway could be protected in perpetuity as farmland through conservation easements.

bi-countyApril 1, 15 press conference at Sudley United Methodist Church announcing the Bi-County Parkway is “dead”

Spring is just around the corner!

Thanks to hard working volunteers, we’re looking forward to a spring that is bursting with blooms at Merrimac Farm! Join us on 3/14 and more to help keep up the good work … the schedule is online at

Route 28 from Manassas to I-66: a “No-Brainer”

congestionRight now, it requires 46 minutes on average to drive the 6.2 miles from Liberia Avenue in Manassas to I-66 in Centreville.  It’s a no-brainer – Route 28 needs to be fixed.

VDOT held a public meeting last night in Manassas Park to discuss Phase 1 of the Route 28 Corridor Safety and Operations Study, with 100 or so projects that could be implemented without buying land or relocating utilities.  These are the quick “band aids” that could be built within 18 months after funding is available.  Longer-term fixes, such as widening the 4-lane bridge over Bull Run, won’t be considered until 2016.

Why so long?  In 2013, the General Assembly raised taxes and provided substantial new funding for transportation in HB2013 – but in 2014, a new law (HB2) required adoption of new state rules to prioritize large transportation projects.  That law was triggered in part by plans to build the Bi-County Parkway, rather than fix Route 28 or I-66.

Two take-aways from last night’s discussion:

1) VDOT will not start to plan for possible transit solutions to reduce congestion on Route 28 until 2016
2) If the Prince William Board of County Supervisors chooses to rezone Cayden Ridge to add 188 more houses, the voters are paying attention to the traffic impacts

Read more »


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