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December 30, 2011

Plan in works for land swap to create athletic fields at Biscuit Run

DailyProgressBy 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.

20111228-Biscuit-Run-Fields
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.”

However, a paradigm shift of another sort appears to be under way. Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville has stepped forward with a proposal to swap land it owns at the neighboring Southwood Mobile Home Park for land in the state park that it says is well-suited for a complex of up to five fields and parking.

“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.”

Continue reading "Plan in works for land swap to create athletic fields at Biscuit Run" »

October 12, 2011

Albemarle planning commission considers growth area expansion

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, October 12 2011

The Albemarle Planning Commission began the review of the county comprehensive plan Tuesday with a work session on whether to expand the growth area to accommodate new development.

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.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: 

Download 20111011-APC-Part1

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.

Download Download staff presentation on growth area expansion requests


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.

But Christina Parker, a Redfields resident, reminded the commission that they denied a rezoning request to expand the development in late September. She said the commission had agreed with the neighborhood that the infrastructure is not in place to handle the additional growth.

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.

Both properties are in the watershed of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

“I cannot support any development in the watershed,” said commissioner Tom Loach. “We should take this time when we have extra capacity to look at our patterns of development.”

But Jo Higgins, who is representing Hurt, said the rezoning process could easily allow the developer to mitigate any impact on the watershed.

“The government can be smart about it and use [the comprehensive plan] as a strategic tool,” Higgins said.

The Vermillion family has asked for 27 acres on Stony Point Road to be included in the development area. The Board of Supervisors denied a similar request when the Pantops Master Plan was approved in March 2008.

“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.

Somerset-farm
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

 

June 08, 2011

Albemarle planners look favorably on expansion of growth area along Route 20

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Albemarle Planning Commission has provided significant support to a proposal from local developer Wendell Wood to move more than 317 acres along Route 20 south of Charlottesville into the designated growth area. If ultimately approved after further study, the project would represent a significant change for Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan.

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Somerset Farm concept plan prepared by Collins Engineering
Click to enlarge

Somerset Farm sits south of Interstate 64 on the eastern side of Route 20 between Carter Mountain and the neighborhoods of Mill Creek and Lake Reynovia. Wood has requested that Albemarle change its Comprehensive Plan to allow the land, currently in the county’s rural area, to be developed for up to 1,902 new homes, plus significant retail and office development.

“Mr. Wood seems really willing to work with us and provide some commercial development in an area where there is none,” Commissioner Linda Porterfield said. “My biggest concern is that we need to figure out how much more capacity can we handle in Albemarle without diluting the services provided to existing residents in the development areas.”

“When I look at that area down there … it just seems to me if we are going to make an exception, this might be the one we need to make,” commission Chairman Duane Zobrist said.

Julia Monteith, an ex-officio member of the commission representing the University of Virginia, pointed out the site had other attributes that needed to be considered.

“This is a designated state scenic byway, it is part of a historic district and it is an entrance corridor,” Monteith said. “These things need to be addressed from a qualitative point of view too.”

20110607-Zobrist
Albemarle Planning Commission chairman Duane Zobrist (center)

“I am sensitive to the historic aspects too,” Zobrist responded. “But we have already messed up the west side of [Route 20].”

Wood said after the work session that he thinks the commission clearly understands the proposal.

“I think they recognized that this property has a lot of merit,” Wood said. “It certainly is not ‘rural land’ with apartments, industrial businesses and the Kappa Sigma headquarters all across the street.”

Since the state acquired the nearby Biscuit Run property in December 2009 from local banker and developer Hunter Craig, numerous land owners have submitted proposals to Albemarle seeking to bring new land into the growth area.

Neil Williamson
, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, said Tuesday that some restoration of the growth area may be appropriate.

“One could argue that the Comprehensive Plan designates 5 percent [of Albemarle as] development area and 95 percent as rural area, and thanks to unilateral action by state government, the current development area no longer meets the designation, and it needs to be updated,” Williamson told the commission.

Biscuit Run’s 800 developable acres, which were planned for as many as 3,100 homes, represented about 3.5 percent of Albemarle’s land targeted for growth. The Planning Commission was provided Tuesday with a list of 10 pending requests to move more than 740 acres into the growth area.

The Piedmont Environmental Council’s Jeff Werner said in an interview that he doesn’t understand the need to restore the lost development potential when so many other previously approved developments are sitting idle in the current housing market.

“If the demand was there for all this growth, then Biscuit Run wouldn’t be a state park right now,” Werner said. “If Albemarle wants to contemplate a growth area expansion, that should be a part of the whole planning process [the county] said they are going to do.”

Albemarle County staff recommended to the commission that Somerset Farm, and the other proposals, all be evaluated as part of the major review of the county’s Comprehensive Plan taking place during 2011-2013.

Morgan Butler, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, echoed that advice and recommended additional data be considered before any of the 10 growth area expansions moved forward.

“This proposal definitely has some very positive characteristics, but it also has some negative characteristics,” Butler said. “A key first part [of that study] is revisiting the county’s needs and the holding capacity of our existing development areas, as well as getting an inventory of what has already been approved.”

Wood said after the meeting that he had hoped the commission would move forward on a faster schedule. Zobrist said the commission would act further on the request in the fall once staff had provided additional metrics as part of the Comprehensive Plan review.

“We asked staff to consider ranking the 10 projects they have because we all think that [Somerset Farm] ranks very high,” Zobrist said after the meeting. “The collective wisdom is we should study this because we want to see development south of the interstate.”

June 07, 2011

Public gives feedback on plans for Biscuit Run State Park

DailyProgress

20110130-BiscuitRunSP

Related Biscuit Run Stories:

Biscuit Run State Park goals and objectives refined in advance of public hearing - 5/3/2011, By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Planning team calls for athletic fields at Biscuit Run State Park - 3/8/2011, By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

State kicks off Biscuit Run State Park planning effort as deal remains under scrutiny - 1/30/2011, By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Biscuit Run state park could open in 2014 - 7/27/2010, By Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Kaine speaks at Monticello to announce success on conservation goal, Biscuit Run acquisition - 1/8/2010, By Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Biscuit Run bought by Virginia to create new state park in Albemarle - 12/31/2009
By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Windfall for Biscuit Run developer? Tax credits could become cash - 12/28/2009
By Bryan McKenzie and Brandon Shulleeta, The Daily Progress

Biscuit Run may become state park - 12/9/2009
By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

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.

Diana Foster, a biologist and member of the Albemarle Natural Heritage Committee, brought artwork created by children living at the Southwood Mobile Home Park. Their drawings depicted their vision for the park located adjacent to their neighborhood.

“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.”

Len Schoppa, representing the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation, also called for interconnectivity, specifically that the bike and pedestrian trails be connected to nearby neighborhoods.

“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.

 

May 13, 2011

City Council’s sixth town hall dominated by traffic concerns

DailyProgressBy 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.

20110513-Stein-Tooley
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.”

20110512-TownHall
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.”

20110512-Norris
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.

May 03, 2011

Biscuit Run State Park goals and objectives refined in advance of public hearing

DailyProgress
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.”

Previously planned as the largest residential development ever approved in Albemarle County, Biscuit Run’s 1,200 acres were acquired by the state to create a new park in December 2009

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.”

John Clem, a member of the Blue Ridge Disc Golf Club, came to revive an idea for a disc golf course.

“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.

March 08, 2011

Planning team calls for athletic fields at Biscuit Run State Park

DailyProgress

20110130-BiscuitRunSP

Related Biscuit Run Stories:

State kicks off Biscuit Run State Park planning effort as deal remains under scrutiny - 1/30/2011, By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Biscuit Run state park could open in 2014 - 7/27/2010, By Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Kaine speaks at Monticello to announce success on conservation goal, Biscuit Run acquisition - 1/8/2010, By Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Biscuit Run bought by Virginia to create new state park in Albemarle - 12/31/2009
By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Windfall for Biscuit Run developer? Tax credits could become cash - 12/28/2009
By Bryan McKenzie and Brandon Shulleeta, The Daily Progress

Biscuit Run may become state park - 12/9/2009
By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

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.

20110307-Llewellyn
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.

January 30, 2011

State kicks off Biscuit Run State Park planning effort as deal remains under scrutiny

DailyProgress

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Related Biscuit Run Stories:

Biscuit Run state park could open in 2014 - 7/27/2010, By Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Kaine speaks at Monticello to announce success on conservation goal, Biscuit Run acquisition - 1/8/2010, By Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Biscuit Run bought by Virginia to create new state park in Albemarle - 12/31/2009
By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Windfall for Biscuit Run developer? Tax credits could become cash - 12/28/2009
By Bryan McKenzie and Brandon Shulleeta, The Daily Progress

Biscuit Run may become state park - 12/9/2009
By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, January 30, 2011

Early ideas are being discussed that could help shape the future Biscuit Run State Park in Albemarle County.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.