New development could come to Prince William County’s Rural Crescent as part of a broader refresh of development rules — and the final decision will probably be up to the new board of supervisors elected in November.
Extending across southern and western parts of Prince William from Quantico Marine Corps Base to Nokesville to Bull Run Mountain and communities northwest of Manassas — the Rural Crescent was created in 1998 to preserve open space and environmental and cultural resources, respect the rights of landowners, and promote available farmland through easements and agritourism, according to county planning staff . Development is currently limited to one unit per 10 acres.
As part of the scheduled review of the county’s comprehensive plan for zoning and development guidelines, planners were tasked with a review of the Rural Crescent guidelines. Choices laid out by planning officials offer a mix of targeted development, either in clusters or on the edges of the region; the purchase of development rights; and no change at all to the county’s policies.
“The range of alternatives that we brought forward represented comments and feedback we received during public meetings, including property owners in the rural area,” said Rebecca Horner, the county’s planning director.
The planning department will make a formal proposal on the future of the Rural Crescent at a community meeting on Sept. 24, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Hylton Performing Arts Center.
The planning commission would then host a public hearing on the plan before the end of the year, Horner said, and would eventually forward a recommended plan to the board of county supervisors for approval.
|PLANNING OPTIONS||ADDED POPULATION||NO. OF RESIDENCES||ACRES PRESERVED|
|Making no changes||8,869||2,783||0|
|Trading development rights||8,423-33,115||2,643-10,390||23,889+|
Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, said the proposed changes would stretch limited money for roads and schools, requiring new investment in the Rural Crescent.
“It makes no sense to develop the rural area to preserve the area,” Lawson said. “This is essentially a rural development plan, not a preservation plan.”
The Rural Crescent currently has 7,827 homes, and it could potentially see an additional 2,783 homes without any changes to the county’s rules, according to staff. Clustering development could mean up to an additional 5,067 new housing units.
The crescent covers about 117,000 acres, including 42,111 acres of protected land and the Marine Corps Base Quantico, according to a planning staff presentation made July 30.
That restriction on development contrasts with other areas in the county, such as Woodbridge, where depending on zoning, density ranges from 1 to 4 homes per acre to 30 to 60 homes per acre, Horner said.
Options include clustering subdivisions, which would keep residential units together while dedicating part of the land as a conservation easement so it cannot be developed in the future.
One of the “rural cluster” options would bring 2,784 additional residential units and 8,145 acres of open space, and the other could bring 5,067 additional residential units and 13,749 acres of open space.
Those plans would mean the Prince William County Public Schools could see anywhere from 1,815 to 3,303 new students.
Also, county staff are considering an option that would allow landowners to sell development rights to developers looking to build on the edges of the Rural Crescent. The landowner’s property would be preserved, while the builder’s site would be open to more development than currently allowed.
That would add 2,643 to 10,390 possible additional residential units, but staff say open space could increase by 23,176 to 23,889 acres.
Finally, another option would allow landowners to sell their development rights to the county in exchange for agreeing to place the land in a permanent conservation easement for farming or open space.
Staff estimate the value of agricultural land per acre in the rural area is $13,000, Horner said, adding the county could apply for limited conservation grants to help with the purchase of land in the rural area.
“My understanding is there is a few hundred thousand dollars per year that could be split between all jurisdictions in Virginia,” Horner said.
Reactions to the possible changes have been varied. The Rural Crescent Preservation Coalition, which reportedly is comprised of 300 landowners and other county residents, supports some of the proposed changes, purchasing development rights, transferring rights to the Rural Crescent border, and keeping the one unit per 10 acres currently allowed, while providing access to public sewer, among other options, according to a letter from the coalition to county officials.
Mark Granville-Smith, a coalition member and home builder, said the options can preserve agriculture in the county and encourage agritourism.
“This is an opportunity to preserve open space,” he said.
Granville-Smith owns property in the rural crescent that includes a working farm. He said he would like to cluster development on a portion of his property so he can preserve a majority of the land for the farm.
“We’re willing to dedicate space in exchange for [access to public] sewer,” he said.
In a letter to county supervisors, the Prince William Conservation Alliance, the Nokesville Civic Association, the Mid-County Civic Association and the Coalition to Protect Prince William County state their support for the purchase of development rights program, while saying the other proposed changes do not meet the goals of preserving the rural crescent. The groups said they are against allowing increased density in the rural crescent and allowing access to public sewer.
Keeping development limited in the rural crescent means the county’s funding for infrastructure can be spent in the county’s developed areas, like Woodbridge, said Kim Hosen, Prince William Conservation Alliance’s executive director. “It’s our opportunity to play catch up with infrastructure in the east.”