Elena Schlossberg

Elena Schlossberg

Some would say the heated debate surrounding the rural preservation plan has been an exercise in futility. We disagree. Instead, there has been clarity.

Community comments in writing and at meetings consistently show overwhelming support for maintaining the current rural crescent boundaries and zoning rules by a margin of more than 10 to one. This reflects a commitment to smart growth principles: protect our green open space AND our tax dollars.  

We have opportunities right now to redevelop in the east, like North Woodbridge, build where the infrastructure exists, invest our precious tax dollars where the majority of people live and implement the kind of walkable communities with access to real transit and activity centers. None of that exists in the rural crescent.  

The process for the Rural Preservation Study was flawed from its inception. Predicated on just one rezoning application, the study was conducted in 2014 and languished for five years. Now, county staff, charged with helping our elected officials update the  comprehensive plan, have shown their recommendations have a predetermined goal: Developing the county’s remaining green spaces.  

The plans promise to "protect open space” under the guise of various proposals, such as cluster zoning and programs that would allow landowners to transfer or sell their development rights in conjunction with conservation easements. But the proposals appear to lack a basic understanding of their actual implementation. It's a shell game, and everyone loses. The east because it will receive more density through the transfer of development rights, and the west, because the rural crescent will be developed with housing and costly infrastructure. The competition for tax dollars means everyone suffers. Staff has split the proverbial baby in half with these proposals. 

Under the heading “Rural Infrastructure,” the county planning staff’s recommendation for the rural crescent, released Tuesday, Sept. 17, states:  “A critical component of plan implementation is to plan for public facilities that ensure investment in public infrastructure to achieve the vision. Public facilities and infrastructure located in the rural area must meet both the needs of the rural area residents and the development area residents throughout the county. Public facility needs such as schools, police, fire and rescue, transportation and potable water and sewer are crucial to maintaining an adequate level of service throughout the rural area.”  

Clearly and concisely, the planning office acknowledges the county will need more schools, more services, new water and sewer infrastructure and more roads. That means more taxes and less green.  Citizens will lose countywide.  

This is yet another reason why the community lacks trust in the county planning department.  Developers and land speculators are pushing a policy that fills their pockets by reaching into everyone else’s. Is this really how to shape good public policy? 

There is a better way.  There are proven, workable and viable land preservation incentives.  Learn about them on Monday, Sept. 30, when the Prince William Conservation Alliance will host a forum on what is required to establish credible programs involving PDRs, TDRs and conservation easements.  

The event will be held Giuseppe’s restaurant, 15120 Washington St., in Haymarket. Doors open at 6 p.m. Food and drinks are available for purchase. 

We need to put this old tired debate to bed once and for all. We call upon this board of supervisors to stop this flawed process. Let’s put it in the trash bin and move on to productive ways to invest in the rural area by promoting legally enforceable  conservation easements, increasing the use of land-value assessments and by creating and funding a robust PDR program.  

Let’s be the unique Northern Virginia suburb that truly has a mix of rural, semi-rural, suburban and urban areas.  From the shores of the Potomac to the Bull Run Mountains, Prince William County has it all.  Let's finally embrace it!   

Now is the time to claim our legacy -- not only for ourselves but for future generations.  

The writer is a resident of the rural crescent and executive director of the nonprofit Coalition to Protect Prince William County. 

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(4) comments


In the past 20 plus years the current Rural Crescent polices have failed to create permanent open space and slow population growth. Less than 1,000 acres of new permanent open space has been created, and reducing permitted density in Rural and Development Areas did not reduce population growth. Instead we simply absorbed ground faster. Specifically we expected these strategies to reduce the expected population projections of 470,000 in 2020 to 391,000 in 2020. We hit the 391,000 population in 2008. 10 years later, not 22 years later. This was a flawed strategy and we need a change not a continuation of what has failed.


There is no Board that has implemented any credible policy to save open space permanently. Are you aware of that? This county has chosen to ignore creating partnerships with Conservation Trusts. Please name one tract of open green space the county owns that they have worked to protect in perpetuity. Silver Lake? Nope, they chose instead to ignore passive use proffers by siting an AG opinion that would allow county owned land to be turned into a landfill. This community pleaded with the board to put it into a Conservation Easement and their first excuse was, "we don't want to be limited in what we can do on county property".

Second, the intent of the Rural Crescent as a smart growth tool was to create an urban boundary ensuring tax dollars were invested in the higher population nodes while protecting green space and promoting agriculture. It wasn't intended to slow down population growth, it was intended to identify appropriate areas FOR that growth. Where the infrastructure already exists. Additionally, the county has failed miserably in incentivizing farming.

Furthermore, the new COG numbers identify areas WITH mass transit and activity nodes as the development opportunities. Those areas are also prime real estate for RE-development in North Woodbridge. We all just invested 12 million dollars in burying distribution lines along route one to entice re development. Like a Mosiac Center in Fairfax.

These recommendations by Planning Staff are neither a credible land preservation plan or smart growth strategy.

I hope you will come to the forum on the 30th!


These ideas might be great if the land was actually 'ours'. But it isn't. It is the property of the individual landowners. The County planning commission, zoning board, and board of supervisors have demonstrated for years that the best they can do is make one gigantic mess of what will be, like it or not, an urban county. The Rural Crescent is fantasy.


The Rural Crescent has served as the quintessential success story of an urban growth boundary tool. Especially given the Great Recession, instead of bankrupt housing and unfinished infrastructure, we contained the fall out to specific areas.

I'm not sure what you expect to see happen if development runs rampant everywhere. Are you aware of the Comp Plan identifies smart growth strategies as a guide to our county wide development planning?

Zoning effects all our "private property". Ergo the "planning" in Comprehensive Planning. A land owner must abide by the zoning, which generally takes into account compatible uses of zoning designations and infrastructure investment, i.e. LOS (level of services). So that a community is planned to promote quality of life principles for everyone who pays taxes.

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