More than 150 people attended a town hall to discuss proposed changes to the county’s Rural Crescent on Sept. 16 at Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas.
While many residents said they want Prince William County to protect the Rural Crescent, others said they want more flexibility in what kind of development is allowed in the area.
Extending across southern and western parts of Prince William from Marine Corps Base Quantico and 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 home per 10 acres.
The county unveiled a range of proposed changes to development in the Rural Crescent in July, and residents have both supported and vehemently opposed any changes.
Planning staff haven’t settled on any one plan, and could propose no changes at all.
The proposed options include:
A rural cluster option allowing more residential units in exchange for a conservation easement on the rest of a site that would prevent future development. Depending on the final proposal, this could add up to 5,067 additional homes or condos and up to 13,749 acres of open space.
Allowing landowners to sell the allowed residential units on their property inside the Rural Crescent to grow projects on the edges of the region. The landowner’s property would be preserved, while the builder’s site would be open to more development than currently allowed. Depending on the final proposal, this could add up to 10,390 additional units and preserve 23,889 acres.
Allowing 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.
Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, said the proposed changes are senseless, because they would create gridlock in the Rural Crescent by requiring more road and school improvements to handle the increased number of residences.
“It takes a huge bite in the Rural Crescent,” she said.
Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, said he also opposes changes, contending they would “destroy the Rural Crescent to protect it.”
Before the proposed changes head to the Board of County Supervisors, the planning commission will consider a formal proposal during a work session Tuesday, Sept. 24, at 5:30 p.m. at the Hylton Performing Arts Center.
Some speakers at the town hall took issue with the fact that the Sept. 24 meeting will be a community presentation and planning commission work session, because residents are not allowed to speak at work sessions.
The planning commission is set to hold a public hearing on the plan before the end of the year. Because of that timeline, the next board of county supervisors — who will be elected Nov. 5 — will decide whether to approve the proposed changes to the Rural Crescent.
Teacher Colleen Duncan said she saved money to move to Nokesville. Now, she and her family raise pigs, chickens and honeybees, and she’s worried roads will need to be widened if the proposed changes are approved.
“It would be nice to keep it agriculture and farmland,” she said. “Food doesn’t grow on asphalt. We want to see the Rural Crescent preserved.”
Other residents asked what kind of effect development in the Rural Crescent could have on residents who use well water.
Leslie Dawley, co-owner of Burnside Farms in Nokesville, said she supports changes that would allow 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.
“I’m in favor of preserving open space,” Dawley said.
Burnside Farms leases land for its 227-acre farm. Its owner wants to develop houses on the property and continue leasing the land to Burnside Farms. Dawley said without allowing cluster development, Burnside Farms would have to leave the fields they’ve worked for their agritourism business focused on tulips and sunflowers.