Archive for the ‘Rural Crescent’ Category

How Many Cars Would VRE Extension to Gainesville-Haymarket Remove From I-66? You Do the Math

calcVRE responded to the blog post  VRE Extension to Haymarket Proposes to Remove 100 Cars/Day from I-66… At Cost of $468 Million.

They said:
The statement that the extension alternative ‘only removes 100 more cars’ compared to the enhanced Broad Run alternative is not correct and is not based on the information presented by VRE. There was discussion during the public meeting of projected ridership and related savings in automobile vehicle miles traveled, or VMT. The 2025 ridership estimates presented for the Manassas Line show a difference of 600 riders for a Broad Run terminus (13,200) versus a Haymarket terminus (13,800). The Haymarket extension alternative would save corridor commuters 88,600 daily VMT, while the Broad Run alternative would save 31,300 VMT.

True, VRE did not provide the 100 cars/day number at the public meetings – but that 100 cars/day number is based on the information presented by VRE.

To help you do the math on your own without waiting for VRE to unveil this key statistic:
– 600 riders equals 300 cars in the morning and 300 cars in the evening, if everyone drives alone.
– 600 riders equals 100 cars in the morning and 100 cars in the evening, if each is carrying three people to avoid the toll after I-66 is “improved” with new toll lanes.

VRE’s numbers about Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) are not the same as the number of cars/day. Do not confuse the VMT numbers with the number of cars removed from I-66.

The VMT numbers do provide some insight.  One car going from Gainesville to DC travels about 34 miles inbound and 34 miles coming home, or 68 VMT per day. The difference between retaining the existing Broad Run station vs. building three stations to Haymarket would be 55,300VMT/day, counting both inbound-in-the-morning and outbound-in-the-afternoon travel.

At 68 VMT per vehicle per day, assuming everyone drove solo and paid the tolls required to travel on I-66 inside the Beltway, that equals 55,300VMT/68VMT per day.  That would be 813 cars/day.

If drivers chose to avoid tolls and carried two passengers, the the HOV3 number would be 813/3 or 271 cars/day.

VRE is an effective way to move commuters from the periphery into the urban core.  According to VRE’s presentation at the April 27 community meeting, each train carries 1,000 passengers and each lane of I-66 carries 2,000 vehicles/hour.   (Each car carries about 100 passengers, so VRE’s numbers assume 10-car trains.)

If the four VRE trains leaving Broad Run between 6:15am and 7:48am were completely full, They would reduce congestion on I-66 during that 90-minute period by 4,000 passengers.  That would be equivalent to 1,333 cars if each carried 3 people, or 4,000 cars if everyone was driving solo, or about 75 OmniRide buses.

The overall VRE system itself is an effective way to transport commuters.  It is the proposed  extension to Gainesville-Haymarket that fails the cost-effectiveness test.  At $468 million to remove 100, 271, or even 813 cars/day… surely there is a better way to spend the taxes raised by the 2013 General Assembly to reduce traffic congestion.

 

Changing the VRE Manassas Line: Exploring the Godwin Road Station Alternative

The Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is exploring if it should extend the line that runs from Broad Run through Manassas to Union Station, as well as add three new trains to carry commuters into DC each morning.

The “full bore” expansion option is to build new stations at Innovation, Gainesville, and Haymarket, while closing the existing Broad Run station and the end of the Manassas Line  That would require adding a second (and potentially a third) railroad track for the 11 miles to Haymarket, plus construction of a new railyard west of that town.

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Compared to the “minimal change” alternative of adding the three new trains but maintaining the existing station at Broad Run,  constructing a new 11-mile extension to Haymarket would cost an additional $250-$350 million.  Despite the expense for the additional infrastructure, VRE would carry only an additional 300 daily commuters each way in 2025 compared to the “minimal change” alternative.

Adding additional trains but still using the Broad Run station would provide a better benefit/cost ratio  than the alternative of building three new stations, new tracks, and a new railyard near Haymarket.   However, retaining the Broad Run station would create a major problem with train storage.

The railyard at Broad Run is limited in size.  The current passenger platform blocks addition of the extra storage tracks that would be necessary, if VRE added three additional trains in each direction.

A third alternative, costing perhaps $10 million more than the “minimal change” option, is to build a new station where the railroad crosses Godwin Road in Manassas.

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Godwin Road would become the end-of-line station and the platform at Broad Run would be closed.  The Godwin Road alternative would allow expansion of the existing railyard.

manalanding

It would cost far less to implement the Godwin Road alternative, compared to the high costs of building an extension to Haymarket with three new stations and a new railyard .  A Godwin Road end-of-line station would also minimize annual operating costs, since the trains in the yard would be located just 1.5 miles away from the location where service starts/ends each day.

Most significantly, a station at Godwin Road is not underneath the flight path of Manassas Airport.  Unlike Broad Run, the new end-of-line station could trigger transit-oriented development and create economic benefits consistent with the City of Manassas Comprehensive Plan.

The Manassas Landing area is described as a “gateway” for development.  Placing a VRE station there could result in high-tech companies choosing to locate there.  Adding more trains to VRE would offer the potential for skilled workers living within the urban core to commute to jobs in Manassas without using a car.

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Planning for growth at Godwin Road provides a clear contrast to the planning by Prince William County for the land west of Haymarket.  VRE has proposed a new station located west of Route 15, but at that site the station would be located within the Rural Area.

The Rural Area is supposed to be a zone of low density development. Unless current land use planning is ignored in order to speculate on rezonings that would transform the area, there would be few (if any) economic benefits for a new VRE station located west of Haymarket.

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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.

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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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Dove’s Landing: Watch Out, County Parks Are For… Parking Lots (Really!)

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this look like a park?
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.

forget "parks are for people" - parks are for industrial facilities

forget “parks are for people” – parks are for industrial facilities

The “Open Space” Fraud Begins at Stone Haven – Hmmm…. Think It Will Continue Into the Rural Presevation Study?

openspace

Are parking lots “open space”? Really?

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”?

  1. Active recreation facilities
  2. Community recreation centers
  3. Power lines
  4. Stormwater management infrastructure
  5. Buffers along roads
  6. Middle schools
  7. 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…

What are conservation easements?

Big trees are hard to find.A conservation easement is a contract involving development of land.    

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.

Rural Preservation Study – First Results of Public Survey

ruralarea2There 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:

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How to Preserve the Rural Area (And Keep Property Taxes Low in Prince William County)

by Charlie Grymes

56154814For 15 years, Prince William County has consciously steered most development to the Development Area. Within the Development Area, current planning/zoning will permit development of new houses for the 150,000 new residents expected to arrive by 2030. There is enough undeveloped land within the Development Area, already planned/zoned for new construction, to absorb 20 years of population growth.

Still, some developers are not satisfied. They see an opportunity to bend the rules to their advantage, creating short-term profits while imposing long-term costs on county taxpayers. A few developers want to buy land in the Rural Area, then get county supervisors to rezone the property to permit denser development.

Buying land by the acre and selling it by the square foot could generate a quick profit for a few people. However, scattershot development throughout the Rural Area would require taxpayers to build unplanned schools, fire/police stations, and other public facilities, increasing property taxes forever.

Low-tax advocates want to maintain the logical, planned development in the county, with development steered to the Development Area. Conservationists want to protect open space and streams in the Rural Area, providing wildlife habitat and helping Prince William meet its obligations to send clean water downstream to the Chesapeake Bay. Farmers interested in for-profit agriculture want to preserve opportunities in the Rural Area to lease/acquire enough land to make a farm operation economically viable. Continue reading