An effort to derail Prince William County’s small area development plans along U.S. 29 fell short at the Board of County Supervisors meeting Tuesday after a handful of residents expressed concerns about overdevelopment near the historical Black settlement around Carver Road.
According to Brentsville District Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, whose resolution would have shut down the planning process, some residents have expressed concern over the prospect of the small area plan -- the process for which kicked off in 2017 -- encroaching on the historic Settlement neighborhood in Gainesville and potentially widening.
After residents and county leaders successfully stopped a plan for Dominion Energy to run power lines through the area in 2017, a handful of public commenters said Tuesday that elected officials were just doing so to allow for more residential and commercial development.
“To our surprise, county staff turned right around and began the Route 29 small area plan with the goal of increased development …,” said Joyce Hudson, a member of the Alliance to Preserve Carver Road. “It really felt like the power lines were opposed so that development could occur.”
Lawson suggested that instead of an entire stand-alone area plan, work should go forward in a comprehensive plan amendment. And, she said, the plan would ultimately lead to more testy public hearings down the road.
“We have a lot of propensity for a lot of contention with that small area plan,” Lawson said. “… I have concerns that this is just going to linger out there and I would rather just get it off the books, let the Carver folks and the community and I work together.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, the resolution to “hit the reset button” on the plan fell along partisan lines, with only Republican supervisors Yesil Vega and Pete Candland joining Lawson in support of the resolution.
The small area plan’s Option A draft, which has not yet been taken up by the current planning commission, does call for mixed-use and multi-modal development with increased pedestrian and bicycle access to complement increased density. But around the Settlement, it calls for a smaller developmental footprint.
Additionally, the comprehensive plan ultimately plans a widening of Carver Road from two to four roads, but the plan’s Option A recommends “down-planning” the road to two lanes with the addition of bicycle lanes and sidewalks.
“The current Comprehensive Plan designates Thoroughfare Road, Carver Road, McGraws Corner Drive extended, and Old Carolina Road as 4-lane major collector roads,” Option A reads. “These roads should be down-planned to 2-lane local roads within the Small Area Plan in order to create a neighborhood community atmosphere and a sense of place.”
Board Chair Ann Wheeler said county planners had already done a lot to reflect the wishes of the current Settlement residents, and that such inclusion would only continue as the plan goes forward.
“They recognized the Carver Road [widening] issue, which is why it was sent back,” Wheeler said Tuesday. “So I don’t actually understand why we’re going to kill it if it’s going to incorporate Carver Road and downsizing some of the roads that in our current comprehensive plan are actually more than you’re looking for.”
The neighborhood dates back to the aftermath of the Civil War, when a local farmer went bankrupt and sold a portion of his land to freed Blacks who had worked or been enslaved there. One of the oldest Black settlements in the state grew with the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church as its cornerstone.
According to county Archeologist Justin Patton, the state declined the opportunity to recommend the neighborhood for a national historic designation, because while it had significant history, it lacked “integrity” with a contemporary development from the mid-2000s at its center.