By Brian Wheeler Charlottesville Tomorrow Friday, December 30, 2011
Throughout this year’s master planning process for the new Biscuit Run State Park, local officials repeatedly pushed for the inclusion of athletic fields. It was also the No. 1 request from the public.
CONCEPT illustration provided by Habitat for Humanity
However, the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation said such facilities were the responsibility of local governments and not something to be included in a state park. DCR staff emphasized at one meeting that they were not “changing their paradigm.”
“We have been barking at the state officials for many months to include fields in the Biscuit Run master plan,” said Bob Crickenberger, Albemarle County’s parks and recreation director. “I don’t think that’s a possibility anymore.”
“The county was deeply disappointed that there were no athletic fields as part of the master plan,” said Habitat’s executive director, Dan Rosensweig. “We know that the Biscuit Run development itself deeply divided this community, but there seemed to be one area of 100 percent consensus, and that is the fields are a great need and a great community amenity.”
The county adopted a comprehensive plan in 1980 that designated 5 percent of its land to be used for dense residential and commercial use. Development is discouraged in the rest of the county in order to preserve environmental resources.
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Landowners can ask that their property be added to the growth area. Requests made over the past few years have been deferred until the comprehensive plan began.
“The reason for the postponing of the analysis and decision has to do with an overall look at the ability of the current land use plan designations to help the county accomplish its goals and specifically its growth management goals,” said Elaine Echols, a senior planner with the county.
The county is estimating that it will have an additional 34,000 residents by 2030. Staff estimated there would need to be between 1,770 and 7,438 new units to accommodate that population growth. However, they also concluded there are just over 8,000 units that have been approved by the county but not yet built.
“There is sufficient residential capacity to accommodate population growth through 2030 within current development area boundaries,” said Andy Sorrell, a planner in the county’s community development department.
Since the last comprehensive plan review, 792 acres that had been designated as growth area were sold to the state of Virginia for creation of the new Biscuit Run State Park.
Staff has suggested the county make up for the loss in part by adding the Whittington and Mosby Mountain developments to the growth area for a net gain of 348 acres.
On the other hand, staff has recommended against approving the 12 requests received including one that would allow for the expansion of Redfields, which is further north of the planned Whittington development on Old Lynchburg Road.
Attorney Stephen Blaine objected that expansion at Whittington might be granted over a project he represents.
“[Redfields] is an area that’s being skipped over for other areas that are less suitable for development,” Blaine said.
Landowner James Morris is seeking to add his land off Barracks Road into the growth area.
“The property is located in the urban ring and surrounded by much more intense usage than the rural area [designation] will allow,” Morris wrote in his request. “It has lost its appeal as a single family home, but would work great for me to have an office there.”
Next door is a 14.7-acre property near the Montvue neighborhood which developer Charles Hurt wants to include in the development area. Hurt is also applying to add a 156.8-acre parcel further up Barracks Road that, if approved, could see an additional 312 to 628 housing units.
“Years ago when the growth area began we were included in the initial drawing and we felt it was to our best advantage at that time not to be in the growth area,” said Vermillion said. “We now regret that. It’s become apparent it’s to our advantage because we are 25-acre island surrounded by development.
Map depicting location of Somerset Farm
Another expansion request is for Somerset Farm, a 710 acre tract owned by developer Wendell Wood that is to the east of Route 20. Wood plans to build up to 1,902 homes in the area with 350,000 square feet of commercial or office use.
“Somerset Farm is within walking distance to Monticello High School and Cale Elementary School,” Wood said. “It has public water and sewer. It’s within a mile of an interstate highway and a mile and a half away from downtown Charlottesville.”
Wood said he would develop it by-right if the growth area expansion was not granted.
“I don’t think that would be good planning for this county,” Wood said.
Echols said the goal is for the Board of Supervisors to adopt the comprehensive plan update by January 2013.
Update: After press time, the commission voted 4-2 to recommend against approving any of the growth area expansion requests. Details of the vote will be covered in an upcoming Charlottesville Tomorrow article.
TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
01:00 - Planning Commissioner Cal Morris explains discussion
02:15 - Elaine Echols explains comprehensive planning process and begins review of county demographics
07:15 - Discussion of development in the rural section and whether comprehensive plan goals are being met
14:30 - Planner Andy Sorrell begins review of land-use analysis that concluded the county has enough approved dwelling units
33:30 - Public comment period on demographics and land-use begins
49:30 - Commission further discusses demographics and land use analysis
58:30 - Elaine Echols begins discussion of the 12 expansion areas
1:24:45 - Commission begins discussion of expansion areas
By Kurt Walters Charlottesville Tomorrow Sunday, September 25, 2011
At the final public hearing for the Biscuit Run State Park master plan, Albemarle County officials issued a self-described “plea” for the state to further consider the inclusion of athletic playing fields.
The nine-month-long planning process has ended with a number of amenities sought by local residents, but not the athletic fields that have the backing of county supervisors, many members of the public and local sports organizations.
“I would just like for you to at least get this proposal to Richmond, ask for their consideration, and we’re certainly not asking you or the state for [the fields] to be on your dime,” said Bob Crickenberger, Albemarle’s parks and recreation director. “Let it be on the county’s dime, but at least give us the opportunity to speak in favor of this and work together.”
The county’s proposal, conveyed at multiple meetings and in an Aug. 30 letter to the Department of Conservation and Recreation, cites a current deficit of 11 game-quality athletic fields in the area, with that deficit potentially rising to 19 fields within five to 10 years.
“As the executive director of our organization, I can tell you from firsthand experience that the quality of fields is declining,” Mueller said. “It’s bad and it’s getting worse … the use just outpaces the ability to maintain the fields.”
Representatives from DCR have said at previous meetings that state parks typically don’t include such facilities.
“At this time, we are not going to propose the athletic fields as part of the park,” said Janit Llewellyn Allen, a DCR environmental program planner, when the master plan was unveiled last month. “We are not changing our paradigm.”
Biscuit Run State Park is located in Albemarle’s Scottsville District on a 1,200-acre site south of Charlottesville between Route 20 and Old Lynchburg Road.
DCR has touted the inclusion of other amenities as a result of public feedback, including an amphitheater and multi-use pavilion, which were requested by local music and dance advocates. The concept plan for the park also includes areas for cabins and campgrounds; 10 to 12 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and equestrian uses; and a visitors’ center.
Others, however, argued that unusual amenities were only fitting for a park that arose out of the ashes of a planned housing development. Biscuit Run was originally going to have up to 3,100 homes, an elementary school and “championship” playing fields.
Chris Dumler, a Democrat running for the Scottsville District seat on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, said the park’s proximity to a population center makes Biscuit Run different from other state parks.
“You don’t have a thousand families a day who want to go out to the Great Dismal Swamp to play soccer,” Dumler said.
The demand for soccer and other athletic fields in greater Charlottesville is evidenced by the volume of public comments received by the DCR. Eighty-seven of the 140 total comments received were in support of athletic fields at the park, far outpacing the next highest topic, equestrian trails, which received 33 comments. Only one resident expressed an opposition to the fields.
Jim Norwood, the Republican running for the Scottsville District seat, attended the last public hearing and said he would support playing fields.
“When I’m elected, I would certainly champion a request to the state for the [athletic field] property allocation,” Norwood said. “I would also feel confident that I could rally the support of the Board of Supervisors for that request.”
At least three current supervisors — Ann H. Mallek, Dennis S. Rooker and the retiring Lindsay G. Dorrier Jr. — have publicly supported the proposal. Dumler also said he would support the proposal if elected to fill Dorrier’s seat.
“I would hope that state-level policymakers would be willing to sit back and listen and say, ‘OK, we’re building a park in your backyard and obviously you have a huge population base here who have paid state taxes for as long they’ve lived in the area,’” Dumler said. “It’s just a matter of giving ’em some elbow, I think.”
The Department of Conservation and Recreation is accepting public comments on the plan for Biscuit Run State Park until Friday. Comments may be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Brian Wheeler Charlottesville Tomorrow Monday, September 19, 2011
State officials wrapped up the public planning effort for the future Biscuit Run State Park at a meeting Monday evening. While no state funding has been identified to build and operate the park, that hasn’t deterred local residents from actively participating in the planning effort.
During the past nine months, the Department of Conservation and Recreation has held two public hearings and worked with a 27-member advisory committee to develop the park’s preliminary master plan.
Public feedback has led to the inclusion of a multi-use pavilion and an outdoor amphitheater, 10-12 miles of trails for hikers, bikers and horses, and the inclusion of both campgrounds and cabins.
Christopher Gist, a city resident and advisory committee member representing area bicyclists, said he was pleased with the results thus far.
“It’s a decent plan, but I wish there was a plan for funding,” Gist said. “I think they have done a good job by maintaining a lot of wild space within the park. The whole southern part is largely undeveloped and includes trail networks.”
Janit Llewellyn Allen, a DCR environmental program planner, acknowledged that the state funding challenge could mean the plans for Biscuit Run remain only on paper for the foreseeable future.
“We don’t have funding for the park at this time and we don’t know when we would have the funding,” Allen said.
“We are hoping to bring this to the DCR board in early Spring 2012,” Allen said. “While the economy’s not good and we don’t have any bond money, we want to get the plan approved and ready for the time when we do.”
About 45 people attended Monday’s public hearing and reiterated their support for many of the uses that the master plan will accommodate. However, state officials said that athletic playing fields, sought enthusiastically by other community members and Albemarle County staff, would continue to be excluded from the plans for Biscuit Run.
“We are desperately in need of soccer fields,” said Bill Mueller, executive director of the Soccer Organization of Charlottesville-Albemarle. “The simple fact is there are not enough playing fields now, and the situation will only get worse in the future.”
By Brian Wheeler Charlottesville Tomorrow Monday, August 1, 2011
When asked what facilities the public favored for Biscuit Run State Park, about 50 percent of the comments received by the Department of Conservation and Recreation indicated athletic fields should be a priority. The second-largest block of votes, about 19 percent of the total, favored equestrian trails.
However, when state officials unveiled the first draft concept plan Monday, it said no athletic fields would be included in the park and that the opening of Biscuit Run, for any use, appeared to be a long way off, given state funding limitations.
The 140 public comments were reviewed at Monday’s final meeting of the 27-member advisory committee planning Biscuit Run State Park on a 1,200-acre site located south of Charlottesville between Route 20 and Old Lynchburg Road.
“We got a lot of comments, which is really great,” said Janit Llewellyn, an environmental program planner at the Department of Conservation and Recreation. “We had a lot of leagues and folks … comment on active recreation, and that included soccer, athletic fields and the types of active sports that are not really typical for a state park venue.”
“There was some discussion internally as to how to handle that,” Llewellyn said. “At this time, we are not going to propose the athletic fields as part of the park. We are not changing our paradigm.”
Albemarle County officials have encouraged community members to provide feedback in an effort to secure a state commitment to new athletic facilities. 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 has called for inclusion of new athletic fields.
“I find it disappointing,” Crickenberger said after the meeting. “If 87 comments support athletic fields, all I would ask is that the proposal be moved forward. It appears, however, that a decision has already been made.”
DCR’s concept plan did reflect a number of other community priorities. Biscuit Run State Park is slated to include a multi-use pavilion and an outdoor amphitheater; 10 to 12 miles of trails for hikers, bikers and horses; and campgrounds and cabins. The park’s only vehicular entrance will be on Route 20 just south of the Avon Street intersection.
“The one thing that makes this park different are the trails,” Llewellyn said, noting that most state parks have a significant water feature. “Given the proximity of Charlottesville and nearby neighborhoods, we also heard the need for external trail connections.”
Llewellyn said the park would have up to three community trail connections, one along Old Lynchburg Road, one near where Biscuit Run Creek leaves the property in the middle of the Mill Creek neighborhood and a third at the park’s entrance along Route 20.
Lynn Crump, a DCR environmental planner, described how state parks are typically built in phases as funding is made available.
“Most of our sites are done such that the first phase has to do with ‘day use’ [facilities],” Crump said. “It takes a little less infrastructure, less land development and it doesn’t cost as much money.”
“There are external influences that may change the order of how this development may be done,” Crump added. “Right now, without a bond referendum for park facilities, and without an increased budget, none of these things are going to be happening anytime soon.”
Rob Craighurst, an advocate for a musical performance venue he is calling the Biscuit Run Community Stage, said he was pleased with the planning process and its incorporation of both an amphitheater and a multi-use pavilion in the park’s second phase.
“I am pleased and I think we have gone as far as we can,” Craighurst said. “Now we need to barrage Richmond with design suggestions, and I would encourage everyone interested in music to do the same.”
DCR will hold one final public input session Sept. 19 at the Albemarle County Office Building. In advance of that meeting, the state will share the latest version of the Biscuit Run State Park concept plan, as well as projected cost estimates.
By Brian Wheeler Charlottesville Tomorrow Tuesday, June 7, 2011
At a public input session Monday, area residents called for trails, athletic fields and a multi-use pavilion at the future Biscuit Run State Park as state officials and a 27-member advisory committee sought suggestions.
The meeting, held in Lane Auditorium at the Albemarle County Office Building, drew about 80 people who had the opportunity to weigh in on the draft goals for the park as well as specific amenities and uses.
“It is interesting to me how many different interests there are in the community with this park,” said Danette Poole, the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s planning division director. “In the long run, we can’t be all things to all people, but we will take their feedback into consideration with the resources available at [Biscuit Run] and factor that into the state’s mission for our parks.”
Poole described for the audience the results of the 2006 Virginia Outdoors Survey that ranked public demand for outdoor recreation areas and facilities.
“Walking for pleasure has been at the top of the public’s list,” Poole said. “Visiting historic sites is second.”
Since the planning effort began in January, the advisory committee has heard from a variety of special interest groups seeking to use the 1,200-acre site located south of Charlottesville between U.S. Route 20 and Old Lynchburg Road.
Performing arts advocates have sought facilities for dancing and music. The draft plan promised to “evaluate feasibility” for both an amphitheater and a multi-use pavilion.
“We have a very strong music culture in this area,” said county resident Sara Greenfield, speaking in favor of the pavilion. “People come here from all over the country to be part of the music culture.”
Active recreation users have also sought to shape the park’s plan and connect it to the larger community. Bikers, hikers and equestrians have all provided input and the draft plan calls for a system of trails to meet their needs.
“The children would like you to include opportunities for exploring, hiking and camping,” said Foster. “Please plan for pedestrian access to the many communities that lie on the west side of the Biscuit Run stream.”
“I think there is a lot of temptation when building a state park to focus on a central parking area with closed [trail] loops,” said Schoppa. “Adjacent to so many residential areas, there are real opportunities to create access points that are purely trails and not roads.”
Before being acquired for a new state park in December 2009, Biscuit Run was the largest residential development ever approved in Albemarle County. The project would have included up to 3,100 homes, a 400-acre county park, a school site, playing fields and major road improvements.
Albemarle officials have been trying to secure a commitment to new athletic facilities and a connector road throughout the planning process, two proposals that state officials have said would be unusual for a state park.
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 has called for inclusion of new athletic fields.
“We are strongly encouraging that athletic fields be a part of this master plan,” Crickenberger said in an interview.
Representatives of local youth sports organizations said Monday they also want to see athletic playing fields added to the park. Large facilities like those provided at Darden Towe Park and the Soccer Organization of Charlottesville-Albemarle’s North Fork soccer complex have been unable to keep up with local demand for field space.
“Biscuit Run State Park could help alleviate the severe shortage of athletic fields in this region,” said Rick Natale, SOCA’s President. “I know having athletic fields in a state park is not common in Virginia, but there can be ways to partner with local organizations. Natural grass fields could be added with minimal impact on the environment.”
“The final decision about park uses won’t be made tonight,” Poole told the audience. “We will be taking feedback up until July 1.”
The next meeting of the state park advisory committee will be on Aug. 1 when they review a draft concept plan. A second public meeting on September 19 to review the park’s draft master plan will follow that.
The DCR expects to complete a master plan by the end of the year. Implementation of the plan, and the ultimate opening of the park, will require new funding from the General Assembly.
By Brian Wheeler Charlottesville Tomorrow Friday, May 13, 2011
About 90 city residents gathered at Johnson Elementary School on Thursday for the sixth community town hall meeting held by Charlottesville’s City Council during the past year.
Mullberry Avenue residents Beth Stein & David Tooley
Neighbors from Fry’s Spring and Johnson Village provided abundant feedback on a wide range of issues, including traffic congestion and mass transit. City leaders listened attentively and served up an ample supply of food from the nearby Wayside Takeout & Catering.
Beth Stein and David Tooley moved onto Mulberry Avenue in April of 2010. They spoke up early with concerns about cut-through traffic related largely to diversions around the closed Jefferson Park Avenue bridge. The bridge recently was put out of service as part of an 18-month replacement project.
“We recently bought a house in this area and we want to be active in the community,” Stein said in an interview.
“A lot of the inhabitants on Highland [Avenue] and above are now cutting through Mulberry to get to Shamrock,” Tooley told the City Council. “A lot of them are driving very quickly. I have seen people go 45 miles per hour down this essentially one-lane road because nobody has driveways and there is parking on both sides.”
Mayor Dave Norris (standing) responds to a neighborhood question while fellow city councilors listen and take notes. Seated (L to R): Kristin Szakos, Holly Edwards, David Brown, & Satyendra Huja
Tooley asked Jim Tolbert, director of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development, to compare their street with others with speed bumps, slower posted speeds and sidewalks.
“A lot of us have very young children,” Tooley added.
Tolbert promised to have the city’s traffic engineer look at the situation, but said the city could not post any speed less than 25 mph.
“We can also coordinate with the police department to ramp up enforcement and get the traffic engineer to see if anything else might be done,” Tolbert said.
Peter Hedlund spoke on behalf of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association and raised more than a dozen concerns and priorities for the city’s consideration. Over the past several years the neighborhood association has demanded improvements to Old Lynchburg Road to improve safety of pedestrians and bikers.
The Old Lynchburg Road project was planned at the same time Albemarle County was anticipating nearby Biscuit Run would become its largest residential development. While that 1,200-acre property has now been acquired for a state park, Hedlund said Fry’s Spring residents still had concerns about traffic originating from Albemarle’s growing urban area south of Interstate 64.
“We’d like the city to practically act on our neighborhood’s behalf to protect us from county commuter traffic which affects our quality of life,” Hedlund said. “Someone suggested [at our neighborhood meeting] last night that there be a commuter lot set up in the county so a [university] bus could run people to [the University of Virginia.]”
Two residents suggested to councilors that they close Old Lynchburg Road at the border with Albemarle.
“It doesn’t solve the problem, it displaces the problem and just makes traffic worse for other people in the neighborhood,” Mayor Dave Norris said. “I think we need a Sunset-Fontaine Connector … and we need to work with the county on looking at patterns of development and growth. We need to look at improving transit, and that was a very creative idea that you all came up with for a commuter lot.”
After about 30 minutes heavy on car traffic concerns, new resident Jean Rodgers shared her experience using the Charlottesville Area Transit system.
“I’d like to offer a compliment to this city for the public transit system,” Rodgers said. “My husband and I have an automobile, but we have used it less since we’ve been here simply because we learned the schedule on the bus.”
That sparked a less than glowing review of the bus system from neighbor Jeanne Brown.
“Unless you are going to UVa or downtown, you can’t get anywhere from here. It takes forever so it’s kind of useless,” Brown said. “I once tried to get to Barracks Road and it took me an hour.”
As a candidate for the City Council in 2009, Kristin Szakos promised to move some council meetings out into the community “where residents can voice their concerns and offer suggestions on issues facing the city.”
After her election, the city began holding a series of neighborhood town halls starting in July of last year.
“I would like to compliment this neighborhood as you have not just one but two very active neighborhood associations,” Szakos said. “I think that that really enables you to be better citizens and to have an impact on what happens in the city.”
“One of the goals for [Thursday] night was to make sure the Johnson Village neighborhood was heard,” city spokesman Ric Barrick said in an interview. “That was one goal that we met. To date it was one of our most productive and successful meetings.”
Barrick said the next town hall is anticipated to be for the Kellytown area sometime this summer. That will be followed by a Sept. 8 town hall for North Downtown and Martha Jefferson.
This article is an extended version of what appears in today's Daily Progress
By Brian Wheeler Charlottesville Tomorrow Tuesday, May 3, 2011
The Charlottesville-Albemarle community continues to put its unique imprint on the plans for the future Biscuit Run State Park. A 27-member advisory committee held its third meeting Monday after spending two hours touring parts of the 1,200-acre site located south of Charlottesville between U.S. Route 20 and Old Lynchburg Road.
Janit Llewellyn, an environmental program planner at the Department of Conservation and Recreation, said the committee planning the park was generating “some really good input.” The committee’s recommendations will be shared at a public meeting on June 6.
“I am looking forward to a large public meeting,” said Llewellyn. “A lot of state parks are more rural, and we don’t get as much feedback.”
The committee has been refining a purpose statement for the park along with enumerating goals and objectives for park amenities and uses. In the audience, some of the special interest groups lobbying for inclusion in the park’s plans included dancers, musicians, and disc golfers.
“We have a lot of special interest groups here,” acknowledged Llewellyn. “It’s great to have that enthusiasm.”
“Originally when they were going to make it a development, the developer approached us about designing a course,” Clem said in an interview. “We have a successful course at Walnut Creek and we would like to have one closer to the city so you don’t necessarily need a car to get there.”
The park’s proposed statement of purpose highlights the goal of engaging and learning from the “unique natural, scenic, historical and cultural resources” in the area.
As a state park in close proximity to the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle neighborhoods, like Mill Creek South and Lake Reynovia, the goals also include connecting “urban and rural recreational and educational opportunities.”
Lonnie Murray is a member of the advisory committee and chair of the Albemarle County Natural Heritage Committee that advises the board of supervisors on land use decisions. Murray has advocated for the park to be used, in part, to provide opportunities to experience native plants and wildlife.
One “invasive species” he hopes will be close to extinct in the new state park is recreational vehicles. Murray advocated for establishing tent camping and RV’s in separate locations, and noted a more natural experience could bring different customers.
“If you don’t include RV’s, we will attract an entirely different sort of person to the park,” Murray said.
The committee discussed eliminating RVs all together as a use, but ultimately landed on language that would recommend development of a “tent-only campground.” RVs might be allowed in a “limited and separate” area.
Johnny Finch is president of the Virginia Association for Parks and a member of the advisory committee.
“I am not opposed to separate facilities, but I do think it would be a travesty for a Virginia state park to discriminate against a very viable part of the park industry,” Finch said in an interview. “Some objections seem to be about generators, but here they would have electrical connections and water hook-ups.”
After the meeting, Murray said he hoped the state wouldn’t take a cookie-cutter approach to the park’s planning.
“I am pretty excited about the next steps that will actually create something that will pull people in,” Murray said.
One idea that got Murray’s attention was a proposal submitted by Rob Craighurst for a musical performance venue he is calling the Biscuit Run Community Stage. His plan depicted a multi-use covered stage that would be surrounded by an outdoor grassy amphitheater.
“It’s hard to say where this goes, [the goals and objectives] are so general,” said Craighurst in an interview. “I am going to keep pushing for the unique [amenities] that will make this park different.”
“We have all kinds of musicians here that could book a concert there several nights a week,” Craighurst added.
The committee agreed to include both an amphitheater and a multi-use pavilion as proposed objectives. However, neither athletic playing fields nor a disc golf course made the cut, though the latter was mentioned as a potential use in the proposed “activity areas.”
Bob Crickenberger, Albemarle’s parks and recreation director, was one of the officials who called for inclusion of new athletic fields at the committee’s March meeting.
“I still would hope they would take that into consideration,” said Crickenberger after the meeting. “I will encourage our user groups to attend June 6th as I think [the state] needs to hear that from the community.”
The DCR expects to complete a master plan by the end of the year. Implementation of the plan, and the ultimate opening of the park, will require new funding from the General Assembly.
A public briefing and public input opportunity will be held on June 6 at 7:00 PM in the Lane Auditorium at the Albemarle County Office Building.
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.
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.
At the same time, state officials are reviewing the series of transactions that took the property from a one-time proposal for a massive housing development to a sale of property to the state and subsequent tax credits for the developers.
“The Biscuit Run matter is being reviewed by appropriate parties,” said Brian Gottstein, director of communication for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. “I cannot say any more than that without potentially compromising an investigation.”
The Biscuit Run property in Albemarle was sold to the state for $9.8 million in December 2009 by Forest Lodge LLC, a company that had paid $46.2 million to acquire the land for development.
In 2007, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning for developer Hunter Craig that would have allowed the construction of up to 3,100 homes on the property. Craig is also founder and vice chairman of Virginia National Bank and a member of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors.
However, the poor economy prompted the landowners to work with the state on a deal that involved selling the land below market value in exchange for Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credits and federal charitable deductions. However, the $87.7 million land appraisal that was the initial basis for the tax credits continues to be negotiated between Craig and the state.
“The appraisal value of the Biscuit Run property has to be agreed upon,” Craig said in an e-mail to Charlottesville Tomorrow. “We are currently in negotiations.”
Craig was asked to confirm whether the December 2009 appraisal by Patricia O’Grady Filer, which valued the property prior to sale at $87.7 million, any charitable gifts claimed from the transaction, or any land conservation tax credits were being investigated by state or federal officials.
“We are not aware of any state or federal investigation in relationship to any of the above,” Craig said. “Having a state park in the Charlottesville area has been a goal of the Virginia Outdoors Plan since 1966. With the donation by Forest Lodge LLC … the Department of Conservation and Recreation is able to fulfill that long-term goal, one that will be a great public asset.”
Park master planning
Planning for the future park moved forward last week when a new advisory committee tasked with developing a master plan was briefed by a delegation from the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Joe Elton, the state parks director, said the 27-member committee would meet four times in 2011 to develop the plans for Biscuit Run’s almost 1,200 acres. There will also be two public input sessions.
“Generally speaking it takes about a year to get through the planning process,” Elton said. “We are one of the few states that actually require a comprehensive master plan before we develop anything on the site.”
Danette Poole, the DCR’s planning division director, said she would be working with the community to develop the park’s master plan, including an inventory of natural and cultural resources.
“I am really thrilled to see the turnout tonight,” Poole said at last week’s meeting. “So many of you have interests that are varied and really reflect the community. … All of you have vision and ideas about what Biscuit Run should be … and this process is going to pull that together and hopefully create something unified that’s going to be really great for the community.”
In addition to the committee members, the audience included numerous Albemarle County staff, local officials and area residents, the latter representing interests including bicycling, horses and nature preservation. The largest contingent of residents, however, included four advocating for accommodation of music and dancing in the park’s plans.
“I don’t remember the last time dancing was brought up in an advisory committee meeting,” Elton said. “That’s not to say there aren’t things that can happen within a state park that are complementary. I think dancing, for example, [could be accommodated] if we have pavilions in the park.”
When Biscuit Run was slated to become the county’s largest residential development, Albemarle was anticipating receiving numerous proffers related to trails, greenways, and a district park.
Craig also promised a “championship field,” which he valued at $330,000, to support area lacrosse and soccer activities. DCR officials said fields were unlikely to be included in the plan.
“Generally we don’t get into ballfields so much because those types of recreational facilities are provided by the localities,” Poole said in an interview. “Fields are typically not put in state parks.”
Elton noted after the meeting that Biscuit Run presented attractive opportunities for people to come to the park without driving their vehicles.
“When you think about this place, and its proximity to the urban center and to people that live and work in Charlottesville who could walk or bicycle to this park, it gives it a dimension that we don’t have in our rural parks,” Elton said. “In terms of the numbers of people that could access the park without the use of an automobile, well in this day and age with the high cost of gasoline, I think that’s highly attractive.”
Breeden’s ‘donut hole’
One Albemarle County resident currently has no trouble accessing the park.
Elizabeth Breeden, whose family sold the land to Hunter Craig’s investment group in 2005, now finds her home’s 36-acre parcel surrounded on all sides by state land.
“I received a parcel when the dust settled [on the sale] … but it still has zoning by right for 100 units [of housing],” Breeden said. “I am stuck between trying to get the state park or the county to make a plan that will tell me what I might be facing when I seek to subdivide the property.”
Breeden said she is open to swapping her “donut hole” for other property on the park’s perimeter. However, Elton said negotiations can’t happen until the General Assembly passes legislation to allow the transfer. Del. Watkins Abbitt, I-Appomattox, is sponsoring legislation (HB2167) to facilitate the discussions.
“Most people at face value would recognize that eliminating the ‘donut hole’ makes the planning process easier,” Elton said.
Breeden emphasized that she wants a solution that is in the best interests of all Albemarle residents.
“I want the ability to sit down and discuss the best land use practice, and the only way to do that is to have the opportunity to swap the land, that’s what is allowed by the legislation,” Breeden said.
Schedule and funding
The state is committed to finalizing the Biscuit Run master plan by the end of 2011. Left undetermined is when that plan would have necessary state funding to be implemented. Elton said it would take an infusion of funding like the bond referendums of 1992 and 2002.
“The natural cycle would be to look at this in 2012,” Elton said, noting it has been almost 10 years since the last bond referendum for state park acquisition and development. “After we acquire land and the community becomes aware of the potential, of what’s out there for them, and what we’ve found is that people are far less patient today, and there is usually pressure to get things moving sooner rather than later.”
The next meeting of the master plan advisory committee will be March 7. The first public input opportunity will be June 6.