Draft Environment Chapter is fair and reasonable

Guest post by Henry Bibber

After many months of work, the Planning Commission has completed its recommendations on the Update to the Environment Chapter of the Prince William County Comprehensive Plan.

The Board of County Supervisors will hold a public hearing on December 7, at 7:30 p.m.  County residents who favor increased protections for our environment should urge their Supervisors to adopt this Update.

The Update recommended by the Planning Commission is a good compromise between the views of environmental activists on one side and of developers on the other.

It recommends incrementally stronger controls on development in order to protect our natural environment, but nothing radically new – all of the concepts advocated for protecting our natural environment are in use in nearby jurisdictions or are on the verge of being required by state and Federal regulations.

Unfortunately, a number of developers are still seeking to remove some of these advances, because they might increase development costs and or limit densities.  For example, a new policy would require developers to show on their rezoning applications the presence of wetlands on the property subject to rezoning.

This will enable county decision makers to preserve these wetlands if appropriate for the development.  Developers advocate against this requirement, so that the presence of wetlands will not be known until later in the development process, when preservation may no longer be an option.

Similarly, the Update proposes to require developers to identify the presence of streams on their properties in addition to the streams now required to be identified as part of the Chesapeake Bay Protection program.  Developers would be encouraged to provide buffers adjacent to these streams, in order to harness the ability of natural processes to filter runoff.  There are also policies to better protect steep slopes during development and for making the county’s storm water management regulations more effective.

Another incremental advance for protecting our water supply is the proposal for creating an Occoquan Reservoir Protection overlay in the zoning ordinance.  In areas close to the reservoir, this would limit density, control locations of septic systems, preserve steep slopes and protect water quality of streams that flow into the Occoquan Reservoir.

In the long run, better storm water management regulations will reduce the county’s cost of doing business, because our county government must pick up the cost of maintaining most of the storm water management facilities built by developers.

We tax payers will also be responsible for meeting higher water quality standards for the county’s streams.  We all pay a “storm water utility tax,” and better environmental regulation on development will tend to limit increases in that tax.

Saving tax dollars is not the only benefit to the county of better environmental regulation.  By improving our environment, the policies in the Update will help to make the county a more inviting location for high quality residential and commercial development and for employers that are seeking a community in which their employees will continue to enjoy a good quality of life.

Many policies in the Update to the Environment Chapter are supported by all parties. Although the document is somewhat technical, it does not require a degree in environmental science to know that the county’s policies and regulations for protecting our county’s natural environment need to be strengthened.

The Planning Commission and county staff have forged a good compromise plan that deserves to be supported.  I urge county residents concerned with our natural environment to contact their Supervisors now to voice support for the Update.

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