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.