by Jill Palermo,

20 Aug 2013

Rural Crescent graphic courtesy of Prince William Conservation Alliance

Rural Crescent graphic courtesy of Prince William Conservation Alliance

“More than 100 people gathered in the Nokesville Elementary School gymnasium Thursday night for the kick-off meeting of Prince William County’s rural preservation study, a new effort to evaluate 15-year-old land-use policies that limit development in the ‘Rural Crescent.’

“County Planning Director Chris Price said the goal of the study, which is being conducted with the help of Annapolis-based Environmental Resources Management, is not necessarily to change current development rules for the county’s rural corridor, but rather to develop ‘clear rural policies and objectives’ to guide future planning decisions.

“Price said the study comes about a year-and-a-half after some members of the Board of Supervisors began asking what other Virginia cities and counties are doing to preserve rural areas while balancing needs for new housing and infrastructure.

“Back in 1998, the county established broad land-use rules for the roughly 100,000 acres comprising the Rural Crescent, a swath of land that traverses the length of the county west of Bristow and Vint Hill roads. Much of that land lies within the A-1 Agricultural zoning district, which limits development to one single-family home per 10 acres.

“The study might conclude that no changes are needed, Price said, but 15 years is a long time to retain a policy without evaluating whether it’s meeting the community’s goals.

“The first step, he added is to find out what residents and stakeholders want.

” ‘We’re really starting the process’ of considering a variety of issues, Price noted, including: ‘Do we want more houses or do we not want more houses? Do we want to allow people to connect to the [county] sewer [system], or do we not want them to? … You’re way more impacted than we are,’ he told those in attendance. ‘So the process is way more impacted by public participation.’

“Clive Graham, a representative with Environmental Resources Management, said the goal is to include a variety of rural area stakeholders – including those who live and own property in the rural corridor as well as conservation groups, community organizations and representatives from neighboring Prince William Forest Park, Quantico Marine Corps Base and Manassas National Battlefield Park.

“Earlier on Thursday, representatives from those groups met for a focus group discussion at the county’s McCoart administration building, Price said. The goal of the evening session was to explain the study’s goals to area residents and begin gathering their input.

“Many complied, voicing a range of opinions about the county’s A-1 zoning rule.

“Some expressed support for the existing policy, which they credit for limiting sprawl and preserving open space by directing new growth toward existing population centers.

“Others said the land-use rules unfairly limit the rights of rural property owners.

” ‘We have property and we have rights,’ said longtime Rural Crescent area property owner and resident Elizabeth Parker.  ‘We don’t want the county dictating to us what to do with our land.’

“Charlie Grymes and Elena Schlossberg, both members of the smart growth-minded Prince William Conservation Alliance, said any new policies should consider the financial ramifications of increased development.

” ‘If you plant all these extra houses in the rural area, how does that affect traffic congestion?’ Grymes asked, noting that county taxpayers shoulder the burden of widening roads and building new schools necessary to accommodate residential construction.

” ‘It’s not just the idea that you are preserving rural land, it’s also a sound fiscal tool,’ Schlossberg added. ‘You can’t separate the two.’

“It all seemed all too familiar to some residents, who said it felt like a return to earlier fights about land-use policies that ended in hurt feelings.

” ‘I would hope we don’t fight the same ugly battles that hurt this community 10 or 15 years ago,’ said a woman who did not give her name. ‘There should be room for compromise.’

“Price said the divergent opinions were not unexpected.

” ‘Land-use planning is a very passionate issue,’ Price said. ‘I’m actually very pleased that people are actively engaged. … The strongest communities are the ones where the people are most engaged.’

“Residents were invited to submit written comments, and an online survey will soon be available on the rural preservation study webpage.

“In the meantime comments can be directed toward Brian Wilson at 703-792-7615 or”