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March 08, 2011

Planning team calls for athletic fields at Biscuit Run State Park

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DailyProgress

20110130-BiscuitRunSP

Related Biscuit Run Stories:

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By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Albemarle County officials on the advisory committee planning the future Biscuit Run State Park said Monday that they want the park’s master plan to include new athletic fields and uses that will complement the county’s existing parks.

Other community members told staff visiting from the Department of Conservation and Recreation that the park presented a unique opportunity to connect the community’s urban and rural spaces.

Janit Llewellyn, an environmental program planner at DCR, said the second meeting of the 27-member committee planning the state park was intended to discuss future uses and to identify the park’s specific purpose.

“The purpose of this meeting is to brainstorm what types of uses this park might have,” said Llewellyn. “At this point it’s information gathering, and we are here to listen to the public.”

Albemarle County is trying to get back some of the community infrastructure it lost when Biscuit Run changed from a major residential development into a state-owned park property. At the first planning meeting in January, however, DCR officials indicated that athletic fields are typically not included in state parks.

“The one thing that I would like looked into is whether or not we could have any areas of active recreation,” said Supervisor Dennis Rooker at a separate meeting earlier on Monday. “On 1,200 acres it would seem there would be some way we can get playing fields.”

“They could make a deal with our Parks and Recreation department, or even convey over some lands, given that they kind of raided our growth area [to acquire the park land],” Rooker said. “Some of that area was designated as active recreation and now we don’t have it.”

Before being acquired for a new state park in December 2009, Biscuit Run was the largest residential development ever approved in Albemarle County. The 2007 rezoning of the 1,200 acre property would have allowed up to 3,100 homes and resulted in numerous proffers to be paid by the developers valued at more than $38 million, including a 400 acre county park, a school site, playing fields and major road improvements.

Bob Crickenberger, Albemarle’s parks and recreation director, serves as a member of the Biscuit Run advisory committee and was one of the officials who called for inclusion of new athletic fields.

“We are still in need of rectangular, multi-purpose fields,” said Crickenberger in an interview. “There is not enough field space for practice and competition, and the original Biscuit Run development proffers allowed for more of both types of fields.”

One local business owner, involved for many years in local club and high school athletics, thinks Albemarle needs to take care of its existing fields first.

“Before we start talking about building more fields, we need to take better care of the fields we have,” said Dan Pribus. “The field at Baker-Butler Elementary is a dust trap right now and it used to be beautiful.”

“It’s absolutely ludicrous to think that we would cut down trees and build new fields, parking lots, and run utilities when we already have open space with utilities and parking that’s suitable,” Pribus added.

Crickenberger said overuse of the county’s existing fields was contributing to the maintenance challenge, and that was another reason he wanted to add to the inventory.

“We don’t currently have the resources, the manpower, to give the type of attention that each one of these fields deserves, we recognize that,” said Crickenberger. “We also don’t have the number of fields, where we can pull fields out of service and rest them, because each and every one is used 7 days a week.”

Pat Reilly, president of the Monticello United Soccer Club, is seeking the county’s approval for a project to add four soccer fields along Polo Grounds Road.

“In general, the more fields the better, we are underserved in the county,” said Reilly in an interview. “At the same token, it seems like any time a new county field is built or redone, it’s not long before it is beaten into the ground. With the money the way it is these days, it’s impossible to keep a field in good shape.”

Committee member Rex Linville, a land conservation officer with the Piedmont Environmental Council, raised another topic that he said presented a unique opportunity in a park at Biscuit Run.

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Janit Llewellyn, Environmental Program Planner  
Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

“One of the opportunities with this park, given its proximity to downtown Charlottesville and all the suburban neighborhoods, is to easily connect these people to this rural amenity -- it’s right there,” said Linville in an interview. “They could ride bikes to it, push strollers to it, walk to it, that is what’s unique.”

The DCR’s Llewellyn said calls for connectivity between urban areas and parks were a growing theme in statewide park planning.

“People want to get out of their cars and that’s a new thing we are hearing as compared to ten years ago,” Llewellyn said. “People want to get on trails and walk or use their bikes.”

Linville said he brought up the issue because it was going to take a joint effort of state and local officials to make the connection.

“It’s going to take more than just the state planning for it, it will take buy-in and investment from both Charlottesville and Albemarle,” Linville said. “If we don’t locally invest in connecting to the park, it’s never going to happen.”

The next meeting of the master plan advisory committee will be May 2. The first public input opportunity will be June 6.

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