Anyone who plays government “insider baseball” in Prince William County knows Elena Schlossberg. She is a well-known community activist and conservationist. I thought it was a good time to have coffee with Schlossberg to see what she is up to these days.
For the record, Cupcake Heaven and Cafe in Haymarket is a great place to do an interview. They serve a great cup of coffee.
Schlossberg is usually leading the charge on the moral, ethical or environmental battles our community faces. She took up the fight against draconian immigration policy targeting undocumented immigrants, took on Dominion Energy over power lines, and most recently participated in a protest to address the treatment of detained immigrant children.
Schlossberg perhaps fights the most battles involving the defense of the county’s Rural Crescent. She is the executive director of the Coalition to Protect Prince William County. The issue is simple: Do we want to retain our rural character by maintaining green space, or see how fast we can build it out to look like Fairfax County?
The latest issue is broken promises at Silver Lake Park in Haymarket. When the land was given to the county in 2006, proffers were created to protect Silver Lake as a “passive recreation” resource. The Prince William County Park Authority, a private entity, accepted the proffers. When it was replaced by the Prince William County Department of Parks and Recreation, the proffers were quickly dropped without public notice or comment.
The parks department signed a long-term contract with Tough Mudder, a sports tourism business. Tough Mudder required several modifications to Silver Lake, which violated the original proffers. While tourists may have enjoyed what actually looks like a pretty good event, local residents were outraged when the details of the damage to Silver lake Park and violations of the original proffers became public.
To quote Schlossberg, “Silver Lake is the poster child of why the Coalition to Protect Prince William County doesn’t trust county government.” Simply put, she believes land use processes in the county are broken.
Some see this as a battle between eastern and western Prince William. Others think they are watching a battle between developers and conservationists. Schlossberg believes the answer is in the middle. She pointed out there are plenty of tools that allow smart development while maintaining the flavor of the Rural Crescent.
There is a push for cluster development. Schlossberg pointed out that 20 homes on 5-acre lots could be built on 200-acre properties, for example, leaving significant land for a conservation easement or an agro-artisanal opportunity. She supports smart development in eastern Prince William while aspiring for equally smart 21st century rural communities in the west.
Schlossberg believes county government needs to improve its process and develop a holistic vision for the future. She and many others have been patiently waiting for the county to deliver on an update to the Rural Crescent section of the comprehensive plan. Schlossberg said, “They haven’t put their cards on the table.”
While Schlossberg shows up at every battle, she understands they are just engagements in the larger war for the county’s soul. Silver Lake demonstrated that constant vigilance is required. The process is broken, and the integrity of local government is in doubt.
No matter which side of these battles you are on, consider tracking the latest news on the Rural Crescent and other community issues on Coalition to Protect Prince William County’s website.
If I am ever caught in one of these battles, I want Elena Schlossberg in my foxhole.
Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week. You can learn more about Al at www.alborn.net.