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July 28, 2010

Biscuit Run state park could open in 2014

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, July 27, 2010

The director of Virginia’s state park system said Biscuit Run could open as a park within four years, depending on whether the General Assembly approves a bond referendum in 2012.

“If the stars all line up, it could happen,” said Joe Elton, state parks director.

The land was sold to the state for $9.8 million on the last day of 2009 by Forest Lodge LLC, a company that had paid $46.2 million for 1,200 acres. In 2007, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning that would have allowed the construction of 3,100 homes south of Charlottesville.

However, the poor economy prompted the landowners to work with the state on a deal that involved selling the land below market rate in exchange for preservation tax credits.

“Biscuit Run was a surprise opportunity for us,” Elton said. “For 20 years there’s been the notion that there’s a need for a state park in the greater Charlottesville area.”

Last week, Elton gave an update on master-planning efforts to members of the group Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards. He said the park’s cultural and natural resources have been surveyed, and the boundaries of the park have been marked. An advisory committee is working on the plan now, and there will be at least two meetings early next year to get input from the public. The master plan will have to be approved by the Board of Conservation and Recreation.

Virginia’s park system was created in 1936 and has since expanded to 35 parks. Elton said the system received an injection of resources for improvements due to a pair of bond referendums in 1992 and 2002. A third is being considered for 2012, which could provide the capital for phase one of Biscuit Run, which would allow the park to be open to the public at least during the day by 2014 at the earliest.

“Phase one is infrastructure,” Elton said. “Roads, trails, picnic areas.”

Full build-out of the park would likely include cabins, which have become a money-maker for the park system. Elton said the state made more than $4 million in rentals last year, all of which goes back into the system.

Some in the community hope the park will include athletic fields, but Elton said such amenities are not likely to become part of the plan.

“State parks are generally more passive recreation,” Elton said. In all, he said he anticipated that less than 15 percent of the park would be developed, leaving the rest for open space.

One potential obstacle to the park’s swift development is a desire to keep the park intact. Currently, there is a 36-acre parcel owned by the Breeden family, the original owners of the larger parcel sold to Forest Lodge LLC in 2004. Elton said negotiations are under way to conduct a land swap.

“We’d like to not have a hole in the middle of the park,” Elton said. “They’d like to be on the edge of the property.”

The General Assembly would have to approve any land-swap deal.

Elton himself has visited the property three times to determine its suitability for a park.

“When I got to the highest point [in the park], I had a 360-degree view and I don’t remember seeing any evidence of man. I saw forest,” Elton said.

June 23, 2010

Norris asks for Old Lynchburg Road project to be expedited

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

When Charlottesville’s capital improvement program (CIP) for FY2011 was developed this past spring, the president of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association expressed his concern the budget included no funding next year for a $3.7 million project to add sidewalks and safety features to his neighborhood’s busiest street.

On Monday, he appeared before City Council to explain why he doesn’t want the project delayed.

“A seven-year-old boy was hit on Old Lynchburg Road just on Friday,” said Peter Hedlund. “This speaks to the issue of safety on that current sidewalk-less road.”

Hedlund urged Council to expedite the project, which will also include the creation of a drainage system to stop stormwater from directly impacting Moores Creek.

20100621-CC-Edwards
City engineer Tony Edwards describes the features in the design for improvements to Old Lynchburg Road

City Engineer Tony Edwards was on hand at City Council Monday to deliver a progress report on the project, which is currently not likely to get under construction until at least the summer of 2013. The CIP shows $500,000 being allocated to the project in FY2012, $1 million in FY2013 and $1.5 million in FY2014. No funding is set to be allocated in the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

Download Download staff report from Tony Edwards

It had been anticipated that the 3,100 home Biscuit Run development in Albemarle County would contribute over $1.5 million towards the project. When the developer of that project decided instead to sell the land to the Commonwealth of Virginia for a state park, the money dried up.

However, the project did not die as a result, and is now in the final design phase. Edwards said engineers are currently working out the details of how stormwater will drain into the watershed. They’re also helping explore the possibility of a new extension of the Rivanna Trail through property owned by the Fry’s Spring Beach Club.

Under these plans, sidewalk and bike lanes would travel along the east side of the road from Azalea Park to Middleton Lane. At that point, bikes would be instructed to continue their journey on Monte Vista Avenue.  Pedestrians would cross the street or use the sidewalk on the west side of the road.

20100621-CC-long-image

Click for a larger image in .PDF format

Edwards said the design would be finalized by the fall. If there was funding, he said construction could begin next summer. However, enough money won’t be accrued through the CIP until FY2013, delaying construction until then.

“We’ve got a project with a lot of citizen input that’s making great progress,” Mayor Dave Norris said. “But right now it’s projected to just sit on a shelf for a couple of years until the funding kicks in.” Norris asked the rest of Council if they would be prepared to reallocate money from other projects in order to get the project started more quickly. He got agreement from the three councilors present. David Brown was not present. With their consent, Norris directed city staff to develop suggestions of where the money could be obtained.

Budget Director Leslie Beauregard said in an e-mail she had not had time to closely look at Council’s new directive and was not prepared to respond.

March 26, 2010

MPO discusses U.S. 29 study, Biscuit Run funding

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday,  March 26, 2010

At their meeting on March 24, 2010, the MPO Policy Board discussed how the proposed Berkmar Drive extension might affect traffic patterns in northern Albemarle County, the possibility of a bike commuter trail to connect Charlottesville and northern parts of the county, and the ongoing revision of a study designed to develop a master plan for all of U.S. 29 throughout Virginia.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100324-MPO-Policy-Board

MPO Director raises questions about U.S. 29 Corridor Study

A subcommittee of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) is continuing work on a study of the entire U.S. 29 corridor from the North Carolina border to Gainesville. The ultimate goal of the study, which is referred to in CTB documents as a ‘blueprint,’, is to create a master plan for the road. The Parsons Transportation Group was hired by the Virginia Department of Transportation to conduct the study.

20091007-BOS-Center-State
This map depicts an alternative for a new road passing through eastern Albemarle County. This was not included as part of the draft. Click through for a larger image (.PDF) (Source: VDOT)

When a draft was unveiled last fall, it included three concepts for projects that were later removed at the request of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. These were an extension of Leonard Sandridge Road using right of way purchased by VDOT for the western bypass, an elevated highway connecting U.S. 250 with U.S. 29 at Hydraulic Road, as well as a new road to connect Culpeper to I-64 along the Route 15 corridor in eastern Albemarle.The study, minus these projects, was submitted to the Commonwealth Transportation Board last fall. In December, the CTB passed a resolution which was critical of the way in which the study was developed. The subcommittee was appointed to evaluate the way in which the study was conducted.

On Wednesday, MPO executive director Stephen Williams told the MPO Policy Board that he had heard the three projects might be put back in the study, which the CTB instructed the subcommittee to revise with a target completion date of July 1.  

Jim Utterback, the administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District, said he had not heard that information. Utterback, a member of the CTB subcommittee, said the resolution instructed VDOT to improve the way in which this and future corridor studies are conducted, but did not specifically ask for the three projects to be recommended.

“There has been no decision about that that I’m aware of,” Utterback told the MPO Policy Board.  In a follow-up e-mail sent two days after the MPO meeting, Utterback confirmed his understanding to local officials.

“These projects have not been put back in as recommendations and there is no intention to do such,” wrote Utterback.

Butch Davies, the representative of VDOT’s Culpeper District on the CTB, said in an interview that he also was unaware of any efforts to reinstitute the three projects.

“I’ve been to every meeting and played an active role with it,” Davies said. “The resolution adopted by the CTB does not include the adoption of the [projects].”

Davies said CTB members were concerned that the study became too bogged down on individual projects, and said that made it hard for any consensus to be reached.

“You can’t put in a dramatic interchange proposal without having local government vet it [first],” Davies said. He said several of the eliminated proposals went against the comprehensive plans put in place by jurisdictions, including Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

Davies said many of the study’s recommendations involve finding a way to limit the number of intersections along the corridor in order to protect it as a transportation asset.

Charlie Rasnick, a retired VDOT engineer, is working with Parsons on the study. He said in an interview that the final report would honor the input from local elected officials.

“Once we got comments back from the public it was little of value to keep those recommendations in,” Rasnick said.

The subcommittee met earlier this month, and will next meet on April 7, 2010 in VDOT’s Warrenton office.  The CTB has requested the full report to be ready for their review by July 1.

Federal funding request for 29/H/250 improvements

Representative Tom Perriello (D-Ivy) has informed the MPO that he has made a request for $517,000 in funding  to pay for design work for additional lanes at the interchange that connects U.S. 29 with the U.S. 250 Bypass. If granted, the money would go to assist the City of Charlottesville with design work for the project, a key step towards actual construction of a long-planned second lane on the ramp that connects southbound U.S. 29 with westbound U.S. 250.

MPO Director Williams mistakenly told the MPO that the money had been appropriated, but that will not happen until Congress takes up the federal budget later this year.

“His staff told me that he views this as a very high priority project for his district, and one that will really serve the needs of his constituents all the way throughout his district down into Lynchburg and Danville,” Williams said.

Perriello made several other requests this year, including $4 million for the Battelle Corporation to develop a new interface for detecting biological threats on the battlefield. Battelle has a presence in the University of Virginia’s Research Park in northern Albemarle.  

Perriello also requested $1.5 million for the Jefferson School restoration and redevelopment project, $500,000 for Habitat for Humanity’s redevelopment of the Sunrise Trailer park, $2.2 million for Crozet’s downtown streetscape project and $720,000 for construction of a bridge to carry bikes and pedestrian over the north-south railroad line that bisects McIntire Park. Perriello also requested $1 million towards the extension of the runway at the Charlottesville-Albemarle airport.

Jessica Barba, a spokeswoman for Perriello, told Charlottesville Tomorrow that 17 of the congressman’s 48 appropriation requests in FY2010 were ultimately funded. She said decisions would be made by Congress by early May.

Federal government clears up source of Biscuit Run funding

In January, Williams sent a letter to the then-Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer requesting information about why the MPO was not consulted when Virginia acquired the Biscuit Run property as a new state park. Nearly half of the $9.8 million price was financed using federal transportation dollars.

Virginia’s new transportation secretary, Sean Connaughton, wrote Williams to say that the money did not actually come from a funding pool from which the MPO needed to be consulted. The MPO is required by law to sign off on most federal funds granted to localities and the state for transportation purposes.

“The funds allocated to the Biscuit Run project were not Transportation Enhancement Funds but Equity Bonus Funds, which are statewide discretionary funds,” wrote Sean Connaughton in a letter dated February 8, 2010. That pool of money is not subject to the MPO’s jurisdiction.

The three paragraph letter says former Governor Tim Kaine directed Virginia Department of Transportation officials to work with the Department of Conservation and Recreation on a solution that would allow Virginia to buy the land to create a new park.

In an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow last February, Williams explained how equity bonus funds work.

“Every state on an annual basis gets an allocation of formula funds,” Williams said. This money goes to pay for maintenance of road surfaces and bridges. “At the end of the year, if a state has not used up their entire allocation of funding, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) takes back the money.”

Then each state competes for a share of the additional money.

“My understanding is that Virginia got funds [and then] decided to spend the money for Biscuit Run,” Williams said.  

The MPO voted to authorize a letter which invited the Secretary to meet with the MPO to discuss transportation projects in Charlottesville and Albemarle.

Board members express skepticism over Berkmar Drive computer simulation

The MPO’s new transportation planner has used computer models to depict how traffic patterns would be affected by the construction of new roads. One of his first tasks, according to Williams, was to model how driver behavior would change if the proposed Berkmar Drive extension and a new bridge over the South Fork Rivanna River are built.

Download Download Williams' presentation of Berkmar traffic model

However, members of the MPO Policy Board did not think his first effort used correct information, and thus generated incorrect results.

For instance, existing conditions used to set a baseline for the model described Earlysville Road as having a level of service (LOS) of D. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) describes such conditions as “approaching unstable flow.”

20100324-MPO (left to right) JAUNT Director Donna Shaunesey, Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker, City Councilor Satyendra Huja, Albemarle County Supervisor Rodney Thomas

Supervisor Dennis Rooker said that did not meet with his experience.“I drive on that road frequently and I’ve never stopped that I can recall on the road,” Rooker said. He added he never stops now that there is a roundabout at the intersection of Earlysville and Dickerson Roads.

City Councilor Kristin Szakos questioned the current population figures used in one section of northern Albemarle County, saying they were too low. 

Rooker made the point that he wanted a model to serve as a tool to determine if a road such as Berkmar Drive should be built, especially if it means changing the land use of the property along the way.

Currently the land is designated in Albemarle’s rural area, but developer Wendell Wood has offered to pay for a portion of the road, but only if land he owns along the route is brought into the growth area.

“If you do nothing and you don’t expand the growth area over there, what happens with traffic?” Rooker asked. “What’s the gain for the investment, I want to find out. The cost of the bridge is probably $30 million.”

Williams said he would work with his staff to factor that into the next version of the model. But he also said that from a regional perspective, the model is designed to address traffic congestion on U.S. 29.  

"As 29 becomes more congested like we have in the no-build scenario here, traffic pushes off of 29 to surrounding roads and actually causes traffic and safety issues on Earlysville Road [and] Proffit Road,” Williams said.

During the public comment period at the end of the meeting, Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center asked if the traffic model took into account that commercial land uses tend to generate large amounts of traffic.

Williams said the model factors in a 120,000 square foot “big-box” store located just north of the proposed Berkmar Bridge.

Supervisor Rodney Thomas asked if paving Rio Mils Road had been modeled to see if that might alleviate congestion. Williams said that scenario was not modeled because it not in the county’s transportation plans.

County Planner David Benish said significant terrain issues would prevent that road from being upgraded simply by adding asphalt. Rio Mills is one of only two roads in the development area that are unpaved.  

Williams said his staff will continue revising the model in response to feedback from elected officials.

Also at this meeting, the Policy Board members voted to join the new Virginia Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations. However, some members did express concern that joining might take away from time spent dealing on local issues.  

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Meeting opened by Chair Satyendra Huja
  • 01:15 - Public comment from Peter Kleeman, who requested public forum on Meadowcreek Parkway
  • 03:20 - Public comment from Neil Williamson of Free Enterprise Forum, against Kleeman's request
  • 04:20 - Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker says opportunities for public comment on parkway have been numerous
  • 06:00 - MPO adopts minutes for January meeting
  • 06:30 - Discussion of proposed Northtown commuter trail
  • 10:30 - Discussion of Rep. Perriello's request for funding to pay for
  • 13:30 - Discussion of MPO's work plan and subsequent funding,
  • 14:45 - City Councilor Kristin Szakos requests work to build ridership on area transit
  • 16:45 - Rooker calls for work to make sure areas around transit stops are safe for pedestrians
  • 17:45 - Huja asks for more trails to be built linking city and county
  • 18:45 - County planner David Benish says Parks Director Dan Mahon is not working on trails much at the moment
  • 20:15 - Huja calls for more work to be done for cyclists and pedestrians, not so much on roads
  • 21:10 - Williams updates MPO on potential of joining Virginia Association of MPOs
  • 28:30 - Williams updates MPO on funding for Biscuit Run
  • 30:30 - Williams presents results of modeling study of the proposed extension of Berkmar Drive
  • 36:00 - Rooker expresses concern about LOS given for Earlysville Road
  • 39:00 - VDOT Engineer Chuck Proctor explains LOS
  • 41:00 - Williams explains how the model projects several potential scenarios
  • 45:30 - Williams describes the proposed alignments that were modeled
  • 48:30 - Szakos asks why model shows traffic as increasing on U.S. 29 if Berkmar Drive is extended
  • 55:15 - Rooker describes what he wants a model to achieve
  • 1:00:00 - UVA Senior Land Use Officer Julia Monteith asks
  • 1:14:20 - Rooker questions 2035 numbers for one section of the road
  • 1:26:30 - Monteith asks why the extension and the bridge were modeled, and what will be done with results
  • 1:27:30 - Williams describes why the Transportation Improvement Program is being adjusted for changes in McIntire Road interchange funding
  • 1:29:00 - Williams describes how the recently concluded General Assembly session affected transportation policy in Virginia
  • 1:31:00 - Williams begins discussion of U.S. 29 Corridor Study
  • 1:34:00 - Jim Utterback questions Williams' assertion that eliminated projects may be reinserted
  • 1:44:30 - JAUNT director Donna Shaunnesy gives a report on her agency
  • 1:45:30 - Nancy Ahrens of CAT gives a report on her agency
  • 1:47:00 - Update from Julia Monteith on UVA
  • 1:48:00 - Szakos discusses efforts to ban extra-long tractor trailers from U.S. highways
  • 1:49:00 - Williams talks about new coalition of federal agencies to plan for sustainability at a regional level
  • 1:50:30 - Public comment from Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center

February 02, 2010

MPO discusses transportation forecasting, funding for trains, second ramp at Best Buy

 By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, February 2, 2010

At their meeting on Wednesday, January 27, 2010, the MPO Policy Board heard details regarding a new transportation planning tool, elected new officers, and passed two resolutions related to finding new sources of transportation funding.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast:

Download 20100127-MPO-Summary

MPO seeks greater role in modeling travel demand

20100127-MPO-full-picture Stephen Williams addresses the MPO
The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, which operates the MPO, has created a new travel-demand model and is seeking to be the lead agency for conducting simulations of how new developments will affect traffic patterns. According to TJPDC and MPO director Stephen Williams, the new model is built with updated software and can provide a more detailed analysis of how people would get around as new destinations are created through individual land use decisions.

 “[The model] provides us with an analysis of future transportation needs and that’s really at the heart of transportation planning,” Williams said. “It’s difficult for us to do our jobs here at the MPO and to provide the MPO Policy Board with information if we don’t have access to the model ourselves.”

Previously travel demand forecasts have been conducted by Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) staff or third-party consultants. Williams said with the data close at hand, MPO staff will be able to explain results to area planners as the model is used to evaluate individual land use decisions.

To conduct the work, the TJPDC recently hired planned transportation planner Johnny Han. Han previouslyworked as a traffic analyst for the Atlanta-based firm HNTB.

“He will primarily be focusing on traffic analysis, traffic demand modeling and traffic simulation,” Williams said. “[Hans’ services] will be able to augment the capabilities of the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County.”

A demonstration of the model will be given at the March meeting of the MPO. The subject of the analysis will be the proposed extension of Berkmar Drive as well as the accompanying bridge across the South Fork of the Rivanna River.

MPO to submit federal request for 250 Improvement

Prior to the MPO’s January meeting, Congressman Tom Perriello (D-Ivy) had asked MPOs in Virginia’s 5th District if they had any requests for federal funding in the next fiscal year.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said he would like to request federal funding for an additional lane on southbound U.S. 29 from Hydraulic Road to 250 Bypass, as well as a second on-ramp leading to the bypass.

“It is a project that is high in the City’s priority list,” Rooker said. “It’s recognized as the most heavily trafficked part of Route 29.”

The project, which is in the preliminary engineering stage, is being administered by the City of Charlottesville. The city’s project manager, Jeanette Janiczek, said $4.7 million has already been allocated to the project, including a $500,000 contribution from the City of Charlottesville as a cost share towards $1 million through the Virginia Department of Transportation’s revenue sharing program. The balance of the current funding comes a proffer from the Albemarle Place development as well as $2.2 million in primary road funds from VDOT.  

If the request is successful, there is a possibility some of the previously allocated money could be transferred to another project.

Train advocate asks for MPO support on legislation  

Meredith Richards of the group Cville Rail attended the meeting to ask the MPO to support legislation to establish a statewide committee to study ongoing funding of passenger rail. SJ63 calls for a 10-person subcommittee of both House of Delegates and State Senators that would look at ways to both expand and fund rail service in Virginia.

“Virginia is beginning to invest in expanding inter-city rail and our new Lynchburg to DC service is the first one,” Richards said. The daily service, which started in October 2009, is a three-year demonstration project funded by the Department of Rail and Public Transportation. Richards said her group wants to prepare for continued funding.

“We are thinking proactively about looking to the future because Virginia will need some resources,” Richards said. If approved by the General Assembly, this subcommittee would be responsible for identifying new sources.

The MPO passed a resolution to support Richards’ request.

Other legislation being tracked by the MPO includes:
  • HB259: Requires CTB and VDOT to plan for transit services to senior citizens,  and disabled
  • HB1071: Requires urban areas to establish set density figures in order to coordinate infrastructure funding
  • HB1241: Would allow MPO policy boards in Virginia to be expand membership to legislators
Two new members join MPO, Councilor Huja becomes chair

Albemarle County Supervisor Rodney Thomas (Rio) and City Councilor Kristin Szakos attended their first meetings as members of the MPO.

City Councilor Satyendra Huja was elected as the group’s chair.

Thomas said he was looking forward to working with the MPO as they attempt to sort out transportation issues. While a member of the Albemarle County Planning Commission, Thomas served on the MPO’s technical subcommittee.

In other news at the MPO:

  • The Charlottesville Transit Service is on track to hit 2.2 million riders for this fiscal year, and is reporting a 15% increase in ridership. CTS Director Bill Watterson attributes the increased to better marketing efforts as well as improved routes.
  • A statewide study of the U.S. 29 corridor is still alive. In December, the Commonwealth Transportation Board passed a resolution asking for a new draft of the study by April 1 that could include several recommendations that were dropped before the report made it to the CTB. Both the Parsons Transportation Group and former VDOT employee Charlie Rasnick will be retained for continued services.
  • Bids have opened for the City’s portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway. VDOT representative James Utterback said the lowest bid received was $3.4 million, compared to VDOT’s original estimate of $5.7 million.
  • The MPO discussed how they were bypassed by the CTB’s approval of the use of federal funds to help the state acquire land for the new Biscuit Run state park. Charlottesville Tomorrow will provide an update on this issue later this week.
 TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
  • 01:00 - Meeting is called to order by Satyendra Huja  
  • 01:40 - Public comment from Robert Burke regarding use of federal transportation money to pay for Biscuit Run state park
  • 04:00 - Welcome to new MPO members
  • 04:50 - Election of Satyendra Huja as chair, Dennis Rooker as vice chair
  • 08:00 - Introduction of Johnny Han, TJPDC's new transportation planner
  • 09:30 - Discussion of federal funding requests
  • 16:10 - Williams leads discussion on TJPDC's new travel-demand model
  • 48:00 - Will Cockrell of the TJPDC describes the CTS customer satisfaction survey
  • 58:20 - MPO asked to provide input on legislation before the General Assembly
  • 01:06:00 - MPO discusses the use of federal transportation funds to pay for Biscuit Run state park
  • 01:15:00 - Transit update from CTS Director Bill Watterson
  • 01:19:25 - Transit update from JAUNT Director Donna Shaunesy
  • 01:21:50 - Other business: Williams updates MPO on legislation to limit truck sizes
  • 01:23:00 - Other business: Utterback updates MPO on the MPO Policy Board
  • 01:25:20 - Other business: Rooker asks for changes to the MPO's project tracking matrix
  • 01:26:45 - Other business: Utterback says the bids have been opened for the City's portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway
  • 01:27:30 - Other business: Julia Monteith inquires about the status of the McIntire Skate Park

January 24, 2010

MPO director questions use of transportation funds to pay for Biscuit Run

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, January 24, 2010

The director of the area’s regional transportation planning body wants state officials to explain why nearly half of the $9.8 million used to purchase the Biscuit Run property for a new 1,200 acre state park came from federal transportation funds.

Stephen-williams CAPTION
Stephen Williams, director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, has sent a letter expressing his concerns to Pierce Homer, the Secretary of Transportation under former Governor Tim Kaine. While Williams stated he has no opinion on whether the state should have purchased the land, he points out two-thirds of the Biscuit Run property is within the boundaries of the MPO’s jurisdiction.

Download Download William's letter to former Secretary Pierce Homer

“Federal regulations require that when the state spends federal transportation funds, they are required to get approval from the MPO policy board as well as the CTB before the money can be spent,” Williams said in an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow. In this case, the procedure was not followed.

The manner by which transportation projects are both planned and funded is codified by federal law as well as a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the MPO and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

Download MOU between MPO, VDOT and federal government

The state’s acquisition of Biscuit Run was financed in part with $4.8 million in funds classified as “transportation enhancement” (TE) funds. According to the MOU, the MPO is to be notified by the state before this money is used.

 “The MPO was never informed of this proposed use of federal transportation funds and the funds were committed and expended without the approval of the MPO Policy Board,” Williams wrote in the letter. “Due to the fact that the adopted procedures were not followed by VDOT, the public was denied its right to be involved and comment on this use of federal transportation funds.”

Ordinarily, federal, state and local authorities jointly determine what projects should receive funding, and then these projects are to be placed on a document called the constrained long-range plan (CLRP).

Locally, that plan  is known as the United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan (UNJAM 2035) and it was updated as recently as last summer.  Since the identified projects can’t exceed available funding, officials spent last spring debating what projects could be removed from the CLRP in order to balance its budget.

Next, the MPO and VDOT officials collaborate on a document called the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) which lists all active projects that are currently receiving funding from state or federal sources. Any amendment to an item on the TIP must pass through the MPO with at least one public hearing. Only projects on the CLRP and TIP are eligible to receive federal funds.

Mike Estes is the director of the transportation enhancement program. He says he is withholding comment until VDOT can formulate an official response to William’s letter.

Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) is a member of the MPO Policy Board. He said the use of money comes at a time when the state has dramatically cut funding for secondary funds for projects.

"It's especially ironic in light of the fact that by purchasing [Biscuit Run], the state has purchased property [that] eliminates millions of dollars of transportation improvements that would have been done as part of the development of the property,” Rooker said.

While many of the transportation proffers for Biscuit Run were intended to mitigate future development of up to 3,100 new homes, like support for public transportation, other proffers were for off-site improvements that some observers thinks are still needed today.  Some of those funds were even going to be invested in transportation projects neighboring Charlottesville. 

Jim Tolbert, the head of Neighborhood Development Services, said that Charlottesville was counting on the developer’s contribution of $1.55 million towards sidewalk and drainage improvements along Old Lynchburg Road.

“It was roughly half the construction costs and the contribution was related to what we perceived as increased traffic coming from the Biscuit Run,” said Tolbert in an interview.  “This changes the traffic numbers, and the absence of the proffer potentially changes the budget for the project.”

Another Biscuit Run proffer included funding up to $13 million in capital improvements identified by Albemarle County.  One suggestion in the proffer agreement included support for the construction of the Fontaine Avenue-Sunset Connector.

While embracing the idea of a new state park, Fry’s Spring neighborhood advocate Jeanne Chase said local governments and the university should not back away from their commitments to improve roads connecting the city, county, and Fontaine Research Park.

“In my personal opinion, the state park is a marvelous idea,” said Chase in an interview.  “I couple that with the fact that the Fontaine Avenue-Sunset Connector is as important as it has ever been because of all the other development that was allowed to occur south of Azalea Park [in the county].” 

Chase said that any change in plans or schedule for the improvements to Old Lynchburg Road, where she resides in the city, would be “totally unacceptable.”

Williams has invited state transportation officials to explain the funding matter  at the MPO’s meeting this Wednesday. However, Governor Bob McDonnell’s appointee for Secretary of Transportation, Sean Connaughton, has not yet been confirmed by the General Assembly, so it is unclear if there will be a representative designated to attend.

January 08, 2010

Kaine speaks at Monticello to announce success on conservation goal, Biscuit Run acquisition

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, January 08, 2010

Governor Tim Kaine appeared at Monticello today to formally announce the Commonwealth of Virginia’s purchase of the 1,200 acre Biscuit Run tract formerly owned by Forest Lodge LLC. Two-thirds of the property had been zoned for development of up to 3,100 homes, but now all of the land will be turned into a state park.

Download the podcast: Download 20100108-Kaine-BiscuitRun

20100108-Kaine-Audience Governor Kaine spoke to a packed crowd at Monticello
The purchase of Biscuit Run by the state helped Kaine reach a goal of conserving over 400,000 acres during his term as governor. He told the audience the idea was inspired by the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.

"The idea was to try to conserve 1,000 acres for every year since [1607],” Kaine said. The goal was reached through a combination of land purchases and conservation easements. In all, over 424,000 acres have been permanently protected from development in Virginia since July 1, 2005.

The state paid $9.8 million to purchase the property from Forest Lodge LLC. Just over half of that amount came from bonds specifically issued to raise money to purchase land for state parks. Voters approved the bond issue in a 2002 referendum. The rest of the money came from federal transportation enhancement funds.

Kaine said he first learned of the opportunity to purchase Biscuit Run when he received a called from former Congressman L.F. Payne. He said negotiations were handled by Natural Resources Secretary Preston Bryant, but he said he understood the reasons why investors in Forest Lodge LLC wanted to sell Biscuit Run, which they reportedly paid $46.2 million for in 2005.

“The real estate market, the desire to do something positive for the region, and an awareness that open space disappears every day,” Kaine said were all motivating factors.

The owners of Forest Lodge LLC, including developer Hunter Craig, will now be eligible to apply for Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credits and federal charitable deductions. The exact value of these credits will be a matter between Craig and the department of taxation.

“Our tax department really goes over these assessments very, very carefully, and there’s no guarantee what the tax credits will be,” Kaine said. “The only guarantee was the purchase price.”

20100108-Kaine-Close-Up Governor Kaine speaking to reporters
Kaine acknowledged the land is worth a lot more than what the state paid for it. In 2009, Albemarle County assessed the property at $44 million. This is the third state park acquired during the Kaine administration, and the first ever to be located in this part of Central Virginia. The new state park will not be programmed until a public master planning process, which could take up to a year.

“The reason we’ve not been able to purchase a state park in the Charlottesville area is that the land costs have been too high,” Kaine said.

Ann Mallek, Chair of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, said the acquisition of Biscuit Run helps soften the blow that comes with the reduction in funds for the County’s Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) program.

“It is a harsh financial reality that our ACE program must shrink at a time when our purchasing ability would be the best in many years,” Mallek said. County funding for ACE was cut in half for this fiscal year and will likely be eliminated entirely for next year. In October 2009, Supervisors directed staff to consider cutting all local funding of the ACE program and to only appropriate the $350,000 that comes from the Virginia Department of Tourism.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Opening remarks from Leslie Green Bowman, President of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation
  • 04:30 - Comments from Ann Mallek, Chair of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
  • 08:50 - Comments from Preston Bryant, Secretary of Natural Resources
  • 12:30 - Comments from Governor Tim Kaine
  • 28:00 - Comments from Boyd Tinsley of the Dave Matthews Band
  • 35:50 - Kaine answers questions from reporters

January 05, 2010

Top-10 Growth & Development Stories of 2009

In my weekly appearance today on WINA AM 1070 on the Charlottesville Right Now program, host Coy Barefoot and I will count down Charlottesville Tomorrow's top-10 growth and development stories of 2009.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download Brian Wheeler's appearance on the Coy Barefoot show

This is the fourth year we have counted down the top-10 growth and development stories in Charlottesville-Albemarle.  This wouldn’t be possible without the support of WINA for the Charlottesville Right Now program, host Coy Barefoot for having me on the show each week, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s donors, and the excellent reporting by my colleague Sean Tubbs and our interns.

Charlottesville Tomorrow's Top-10 Growth & Development Stories of 2009
  1. Biscuit Run goes from Albemarle’s largest proposed development ever to a future state park after all 1,200 acres are acquired by the Commonwealth of Virginia in December.
  2. Meadowcreek Parkway construction begins in Albemarle.  Local lawsuit fails to stop construction and City Council’s 3-2 vote to convey City property is upheld in court.  In December, VDOT puts City’s portion (called McIntire Road Extended) out to bid and City Council approves preliminary interchange design.
  3. City & County both hold local elections.  Democrats keep all five seats on Charlottesville City Council.  Three independent candidates in the City are unsuccessful in their bids for Council with Bob Fenwick’s campaign largely a referendum on the future of McIntire Park and dredging for water supply needs.  In Albemarle, Republican Rodney Thomas upset incumbent Chairman Democrat David Slutzky (D-Rio).  In the open seat race to fill the Samuel Miller District seat, Republican Duane Snow defeats two opponents.  Thomas and Snow join Republican Ken Boyd to form a group of three Republicans.  Both newcomers are local businessmen born and raised in Charlottesville-Albemarle. The election results will bring a new mix of experience, politics and philosophy to the board in 2010 that could mean big changes in the board's approach to budgeting, tax rates, economic development and other key issues.
  4. Fifty-year Community Water Supply Plan continues to be evaluated by local officials and public for opportunities to improve plan and lower costs.  Engineering firm Gannett Fleming is dropped and replaced with local firm Schnabel Engineering.  Three studies get underway related to dredging of South Fork, the design of the new Ragged Mountain Dam, and a “conceptual review” of the proposed pipeline connecting the two reservoirs.
  5. Places29 Master Plan is recommended for approval by Albemarle County Planning Commission on 4-2 vote.  Many business leaders continue to oppose grade-separated interchanges and other transportation proposals that cannot currently be funded by state.  Wendell Wood lobbies for growth area expansion on to undeveloped land he owns in Northern Albemarle.
  6. Peter van der Linde opens recycling facility at Zion Crossroads.  Rivanna Solid Waste Authority (run jointly by Charlottesville-Albemarle) files lawsuit against van der Linde accusing him of fraud and non-payment of as much as $1 million in tipping fees to the RSWA facility.  RSWA decides to seek bids to privatize the Ivy Material Utilization Center and McIntire recycling facilities.
  7. Charlottesville Downtown Mall renovations completed under budget and mostly on schedule (fountains needed more work after deadline).
  8. Major new housing and retail developments continue to be held up by market forces, economic downturn, and lack of adequate public infrastructure (e.g. sewer capacity).
  9. Virginia General Assembly blocks local sales tax voter referendum, requested by both Charlottesville & Albemarle as part of search for new transportation funding resources, specifically to support formation of a Regional Transit Authority.
  10. First annual CvillePieFest is held in Crozet.  Organized on Twitter, it was simply amazing.
    (Full disclosure: Coy Barefoot & Brian Wheeler really want to continue as permanent judges for this event, something that should become the Virginia Pie Festival! Keep track of all things local pie here.)
Brian’s predictions for the top stories of 2010
  1. Key decisions will be made about next steps for the fifty-year Community Water Supply Plan related to Ragged Mountain dam design and dredging.
  2. Crozet Master Plan review is completed.  What is new target for Crozet’s build out population and will the growth area be expanded at Yancey Mills for a new business park?
  3. New growth area land in U.S. Route 29 corridor will be considered to replace the 3.5% of growth area lost to state’s acquisition in late 2009 of Biscuit Run for a new state park.
  4. Village of Rivanna and Places29 Master Plans will be reviewed by Board of Supervisors.  Will Places29 be approved and, if so, with what transportation vision for the future of U.S. 29 North?
  5. Local government continues to struggle with the continuing impact of state and local budget shortfalls in very difficult economy.  Officials will consider new proposals to diversify Albemarle’s tax base (increased commercial/industrial) and proposals to reduce recently adjusted cash proffer expectations in an effort to encourage new home construction.
  6. City-County-UVA cooperation will get more attention by the public and local officials (revenue sharing, water, solid waste, schools, public safety).  Will it get better or worse?
  7. Master Planning of McIntire Park will get underway and future uses, like a botanical garden, will be assessed. 
  8. The military facilities at Rivanna Station around the National Ground Intelligence Center will continue their expansion and bring new residents to the community working for the Defense Intelligence Agency and military sub-contractors.
  9. Charlottesville and Albemarle both face challenges from their residents concerned about urban infill development, the type of growth encouraged by each locality’s comprehensive plans, but often opposed in the face of neighborhood concerns about increased traffic, public safety, and noise.  How will this impact redevelopment of West Main and old Martha Jefferson Hospital?
  10. Landmark Hotel construction on Downtown Mall resumes, or not…

December 31, 2009

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

DailyProgress

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Download Deed of Bargain and Sale

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Download 12-1-09 DEQ Environmental Impact Report

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Download 11-30-09 Albemarle County comments

20091209-BiscuitRun-DP


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.

December 09, 2009

Biscuit Run may become state park

DailyProgress

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Download 12-1-09 DEQ Environmental Impact Report

Download

Download 11-30-09 Albemarle County comments
20091209-BiscuitRun Map used with permission of The Daily Progress

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
 
Biscuit Run, the largest development ever approved in Albemarle County, may instead become a state park. Forest Lodge LLC, fronted by local developer, builder and banker Hunter E. Craig, is in discussions with the state to donate the 1,200 acres it owns between Route 20 and Old Lynchburg Road.

The land includes about 800 acres rezoned in 2007 on which Craig had planned to build up to 3,100 homes. Craig had proffered an additional 400 acres in the county’s rural area for use as a local park.

Craig and his investors bought Biscuit Run for a reported $46.2 million from the Breeden family in 2005. The property has an assessed value of almost $44 million.

Craig referred questions to a local public relations firm. Representatives there declined to comment on the record. An attorney representing the project said in January that development of Biscuit Run had stalled, though he said work continued behind the scenes.

“The business climate is such that it’s not in the investors’ best interest to proceed with development at this stage,” attorney Steve Blaine said at the time.

Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said in an interview that he would be disappointed to see the Biscuit Run development plan abandoned.

“This plan was approved after a lot of time and effort by all the parties involved,” Rooker said. “Everyone recognizes that the current economic conditions make it difficult to execute a large development plan.”

“On the other hand, it is always nice to see additional land go into permanent protection,” Rooker said. “Assuming the transaction is completed, we would be very interested in working with the state to maximize the value of the property to our community.”

The Board of Supervisors approved the development unanimously in September 2007 after two years of work and controversy. Many residents had opposed the project adamantly, fearing its effects on roads, schools and the area’s quality of life.

In considering the impacts of the potential donation of Biscuit Run to the state, officials with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality last month asked Albemarle to provide feedback for an environmental review.

Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development, responded with a four-page letter. Graham raised concerns about both the financial impact of the move and its inconsistency with local planning efforts.

Graham said that “locating a state park within the development area portion of this property is not consistent with the growth management goal of the county’s Comprehensive Plan.”

“The 825 acres of this property located within the development area, particularly now that it has been rezoned consistent with the land use plan, constitutes a very important area in achieving the growth management goal and its loss could place pressure on other parts of the county to absorb future development (either through development area expansion elsewhere or by-right development in the rural areas),” Graham wrote.

With respect to financial issues, Graham noted that the property generates more than $325,000 per year in property taxes for Albemarle.

“While the removal of this property reduces anticipated demands for infrastructure, it also eliminates critical improvements and funding sources,” Graham wrote. “The proffers associated with the Biscuit Run rezoning were evaluated by staff and found to provide a value in excess of $38 million.”

One of those proffers related to construction of a road connecting Route 20 to Old Lynchburg Road. The “Southwood Connector” was envisioned to pass through not only the Biscuit Run development but also a redeveloped Southwood Mobile Home Park.

Habitat for Humanity purchased Southwood in 2007 and has 350 residential sites there, according to the group’s executive director, Dan Rosensweig. Habitat has a separate agreement with Forest Lodge related to the redevelopment project, and Rosensweig said he continues discussions with the developer about Habitat’s plans.

“Our deal involves them granting us some easements and them agreeing to purchase a road easement from us for $1 million,” Rosensweig said in an interview. “We have always considered this a key financial component to jumpstarting the Southwood redevelopment project.”

Pat Mullaney, Albemarle’s parks director, also provided feedback for the DEQ’s environmental impact report. Mullaney described Albemarle’s existing park resources and encouraged any new park plan to include consideration of the city and county needs for new athletics fields.

“While I believe local residents will certainly enjoy the availability of a state park, the need for a traditional state park in this region is not an urgent one due to the availability and character of our local park system,” Mullaney wrote.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation notes in the report that the donation would allow for “recreational facilities in a region of Virginia not presently served by a state park.”

“In addition,” the agency continues, “the acquisition of this property will result in the protection of approximately 1,200 acres contributing toward the governor’s goal to preserve 400,000 acres of new historic and open land by the end of the decade.”

According to Nikki Rovner, deputy secretary of natural resources, 365,170 acres had been protected in Virginia as of Nov. 16. Rovner said in an interview that any property donated for a park would count toward Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s land preservation goal, though she declined to comment specifically on the Biscuit Run property.

Virginia has 35 state parks open to the public and at least four others in development. If the donation of Biscuit Run goes through, the project would see a second phase of environmental reviews and a master plan would be developed for the public use of the property.