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December 31, 2009

Biscuit Run bought by Virginia to create new state park in Albemarle

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Related Stories:

Windfall for Biscuit Run developer? Tax credits could become cash - 12/28/09
By Bryan McKenzie and Brandon Shulleeta, The Daily Progress

Biscuit Run may become state park - 12/9/09
By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Biscuit Run property in Albemarle County has been acquired by the Commonwealth of Virginia for $9.8 million for use as a future state park. On Wednesday, Forest Lodge LLC transferred the 1,200 acres to the state, land that had once comprised the largest residential development ever approved in Albemarle County.

“When developed as a state park, this extraordinary piece of land will benefit the citizens of Albemarle, Charlottesville and the Commonwealth for recreation, natural resource protection and the preservation of open space in a fast growing area,” Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said in a media release.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the state to acquire such a valuable property which offers spectacular mountain views, abundant flora and fauna and is in the viewshed of Mr. Jefferson’s Monticello estate and farms,” said Secretary of Natural Resources L. Preston Bryant Jr.

Forest Lodge LLC and its principal, local banker and developer Hunter E. Craig, have been in discussions with the state for the past several months. Susan Payne, of Payne, Ross & Associates, a public relations firm representing Craig, said the sale was a very exciting outcome for everyone involved in the project.

“The investors believe that preserving 1,200 acres of land for generations to come will be a tremendous benefit to the County of Albemarle,” said Payne in an interview. “Giving a gift was in the best interest of all concerned.”

Asked about the financial impact on investors who paid a reported $46.2 million for the land in 2005, Payne said “the investors will not come out whole and no one is getting a windfall.”

According to the deed records, Craig intends to pursue Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credits and federal charitable deductions. The state credits are an incentive for property owners to permanently protect undeveloped land and are available for 40 percent of the appraised value of the property. The property is currently assessed by Albemarle County at almost $44 million.

‘Bargain sale’

“This is what is known legally as a ‘bargain sale,’ when there is a reduced cash payment and the seller applies for tax credits,” said Bryant in an interview. “We have determined that this project is eligible for land preservation tax credits. The seller will have to apply in the 2010 calendar year and it will be up to the state Department of Taxation to act on their application.”

The amount of those tax credits has not yet been determined, according to Bryant, and will be a matter for Craig to resolve with the department of taxation.

Since this story was first reported by The Daily Progress and Charlottesville Tomorrow earlier this month, Albemarle County officials have also expressed concerns about the loss of a quality neighborhood project and the loss of proffers that would help build community infrastructure.

The 800 developable acres, and 400 acres originally proposed for a county park, are between Route 20 and Old Lynchburg Road south of Charlottesville, in one of the county’s designated growth areas. Urban development is only permitted in about 5 percent of the county’s land.

“The county has not been involved in the recent Biscuit Run transaction and did not have any authority or ability to influence the decision one way or another,” said County Executive Robert W. Tucker Jr. “We will work cooperatively with state officials to create the most positive possible outcome for the community and to realize the maximum benefits of the park, which include protected land for our residents and a boost to our tourism industry.”

In September 2007, Biscuit Run was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors for 3,100 homes on about 800 acres, representing about 3.5 percent of Albemarle’s designated growth area. Another 400 acres of rural land was going to become a local park.

“We do remain concerned about what we consider to be substantial impacts to the county which include loss of tax revenue and proffers including a school site and a major road connection,” said Tucker. “The loss of significant acreage in our designated development area will create pressure for development elsewhere in the county.”

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Group lauds park idea

John Cruickshank, head of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club, said he thought the new park would be supported by the “vast majority” of area residents.

“This is a wonderful development for the greater Charlottesville community and for the whole state of Virginia,” said Cruickshank in an interview. “The Sierra Club commends all those who made this possible.”

Asked about the County’s concern that pressure may build for replacement land in the growth area, Cruickshank said he did not expect that to be a problem.

“I don’t see that this is a reason to open up new areas for growth. There has already been plenty of growth and other areas zoned for new development,” said Cruickshank. “A lot of that growth is already going to occur north of town and there is plenty of room for people who need homes.”

Secretary Bryant was asked how the state reconciled its 40-year goal to have a new park in central Virginia with Albemarle’s existing comprehensive plan designating Biscuit Run for development.

“Albemarle has among the most progressive land use planning processes of any jurisdiction in the state,” said Bryant. “The County had an opportunity to weigh in and we are very cognizant of this land being in the growth area.”

Bryant also emphasized that, while Albemarle would lose some short-term property taxes since the property is now tax-exempt, there would be other economic benefits from tourism.

‘Economic benefit’

“I think this is going to be a very good recreational and economic benefit to Albemarle County,” said Bryant. “The 2009 figures for the revenue generated from all state parks show they created about $180 million in positive economic impact to localities.”

The state funding to purchase the property is coming from two sources. According to Bryant, $5 million is left over from a 2002 voter-approved bond issue for the purchase of state park lands. The balance of $4.8 million is federal transportation enhancement funds.

“The federal government gives VDOT funding each year for enhancement projects like land acquisition and beautification,” said Bryant.

Both the Federal Highway Administration and the Commonwealth Transportation Board have already approved the use of funds for the purchase.

Rex Linville of the Piedmont Environmental Council helps negotiate many local conservation easements. He said PEC had initially been approached to help with the donation of the property.

“Given the magnitude of the project, we thought it was best left to the state because of the implications for local planning,” said Linville who was also at the courthouse to witness the transaction. “The way they have prepared this deed ties their hands in a positive way for the community. The state has formally agreed to only use it for park land.”

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation will launch a master planning process for the future park, a process that can take as long as a year. Beyond that, Bryant said the General Assembly would also have to appropriate operating funds consistent with the park’s master plan.

The deal was negotiated throughout December and Payne said it was a challenge to pull it all together before the Albemarle County Circuit Court closed for the calendar year. The Biscuit Run deed paperwork was brought to the courthouse by Lori Schweller, of the firm LeClair Ryan, late Wednesday afternoon.

Schweller stood patiently for about thirty minutes while she waited for a final phone call giving her authorization to make the transfer. Once the call came in at 4:23 p.m., the documents were recorded. With the New Year’s holiday beginning today, Clerk Debra M. Shipp said it was the last deed recorded in Albemarle for 2009.

Kaine is expected to attend a news conference on Jan. 8 in Charlottesville to formally announce the purchase.

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