Stalemate at Silver Lake
Silver Lake Aerial Photo,
originally published in
the Potomac News
Which would you choose?
500 acres of parkland open to the public at no cost to taxpayers
230 acres of parkland open to the public at an initial investment of $1.6 million + $215,000 tax dollars each year.
Click here to email all Supervisors. Click here to skip to the BRMC discussion and here to skip to the PWC Park Authority discussion.
Notes from the April 8 Board of Supervisors Meeting:
After extended discussion, John Stirrup made a motion to convey Silver Lake to the Prince William County Park Authority. This motion failed by a 5-3 vote.
Marty Nohe then made a motion directing staff to enter into negotiations for an agreement with the Bull Run Mountain Conservancy. This motion failed by a 5-3 vote.
Marty Nohe then initiated a directive instructing staff to meet with the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority to discuss future opportunities.
Frank Principi initiated a directive instructing staff to meet with the Bull Run Mountain Conservancy and the Prince William County Park Authority to seek a blended solution.
No timeline was established and the Board did not set a date for the next public hearing and vote on the Silver Lake proposals.
Resolution 08-438: Authorize conveyance of County-owned property known as Silver Lake to the Prince William County Park Authority.
Motion: John Stirrup, 2nd John Jenkins
Voting to approve: Jenkins, Stewart, Stirrup
Voting to deny: Caddigan, Covington, May, Nohe, Principi
Resolution 08-439: Direct staff to enter into negotiations for an agreement with the Bull Run Mountain Conservancy regarding County-owned property known as the Silver Lake property.
Motion: Marty Nohe, 2nd Maureen Caddigan
Voting to approve: Caddigan, May, Nohe
Voting to deny: Covington, Jenkins, Principi, Stewart, Stirrup
Directive 08-50 - Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority(NVRPA). Supervisor Nohe requested staff meet with representatives of the NVRPA to discuss the future involvement of Prince William County in the Regional Park Authority.
DIR 08-51 Bull Run Mountain Conservancy and the Prince William County Park Authority. Supervisor Principi requested Senior Staff to meet with representatives of the Bull Run Mountain Conservancy and the Prince William Park Authority in seeking a blended solution to the use of the Silver Lake Property.
Key points from BRMC, presentation made by John McBride:
- Under the BRMC proposal, the recreation uses would be guaranteed (versus the PWCPA or NVRPA, which would both determine final uses through a Master Planning Process).
- The BRMC proposal includes an additional 268 acres of land, for a total of 500 acres, and 10 miles of trails throughout the property; the competing proposals could not provide ten miles of trails without additional land.
- BRMC would establish and operate the entire 500-acre property without any county subsidy, including no use of proffer funds.
- BRMC would provide trail connectivity to county wide trail system.
- Should the Board of Supervisors deny the BRMC proposal, the additional 268 acres would not be available for use as public parkland.
John Stirrup expressed concern about giving a $4 million asset to a non-public entity. He said that throughout this long process, he has wanted an agreement on joint management (PA & BRMC).
John McBride responded, saying BRMC had made offers to the PWCPA, including the provision of additional land and access to Silver Lake, which would allow the PWCPA to operate a boat concession. However,the PWCPA has consistently said it needs full ownership of the property but would allow BRMC to run programs. BRMC would operate under deed restrictions and covenants, to ensure use as county desires, and would agree to a clause whereby the property would revert back to the County should BRMC fail to honor their commitments.
John Stirrup asked if the BRMC goals could be achieved through a lease agreement with the County?
John McBride explained that the BRMC must be able to demonstrate 30-year stability to finance improvements & infrastructure. Under a lease agreement, the donor have not have the needed assurances to complete the donation of the additional 268 acres. There would be uncertainty about future and the donor has many competing requests for funds. A lease would be a constraint on their ability to raise private funds.
John Stirrup shared his view that the County government is the best organization to ensure that Silver Lake won't be developed, but would be maintained in perpetuity.
John McBride pointed out that the BRMC uses would be restrict and could not be altered without Board approval.
Maureen Caddigan asked if Silver Lake would count toward the County's "land bank" under BRMC proposal?
Staff responded, saying that it would count toward the County's open space goal as well as the new parkland goal of 70 acres per 1,000 residents and be added to the trails inventory.
John McBride shared information on BRMC proposes uses, which would emphasize infrastructure to support community needs including a nature/interpretive/education center; boat launch; repair to house on site for BRMC resident. He said that BRMC has secured a challenge grant, which would provide $500,000 in matching funds for infrastructure improvements.
Mike May pointed out that BRMC could allocate some acreage to the PWCPA for horse facilities, which would count toward the 15 acres per 1,000 residents goal established for County-owned parkland.
Mike May asked when BRMC would open the park to public access. Mike Keiffer, BRMC Executive Director, said the park would be fully open to the public, sunrise to sunset, in a year.
Corey Stewart asked about financing improvements, do they line up with what the PWCPA has proposed?
John McBride said that BRMCs first thrust would be to develop a parking area, bus turn-around, access to the lake. He said they would work with Toll Brothers on the trails the developer is required to build (two miles). BRMC would add ten miles of additional trails, as shown on their map, and work with equestrian groups to connect the trail system to Long Park.
Corey Stewart asked how much money BRMC would have to raise each year for maintenance? He asked if BRMC would you commit to raising $200k per year for maintenance (based cost in the PWCPA proposal)? Stewart observed that the County does not have money to fund the PWCPA proposal and said he needed to have confidence that BRMC could raise the necessary funding.
John Jenkins asked if Toll Brothers was required to construct trails. John McBride said yes, Toll Brothers had committed to construct two miles of trails.
Mike May requested information on the process, asking whether staff would draft deeds, covenants and restrictions if the decision is for BRMC?
County Attorney Ross Horton said yes, and that because both parties would have to agree on documents, this would be negotiated between the parties.
Corey Stewart said that the PWCPA had defined maintenance costs and asked what level would the BRMC establish?
Mike Kieffer responded, saying that the County would get a park that was open from sunrise to sunset in one year.
Corey Stewart requested information on BRMCs plans to ensure security at the site. Mike Keiffer said BRMC would have a resident on-site, with a 24/7 presence.
Key points from the PWCPA, presentation made by Jay Ellington:
- Silver Lake would be open to the public in 90 - 120 days.
- The PWCPA would complete the trails with Toll Brothers and provide access to the lake first.
- Ellington passed out a letter of endorsement from the Nokesville Horse Society.
- The PWCPA has experience with natural area management and nature programs at Locust Shade & Lake Ridge parks.
Mike May asked if the PWCPA had a contingency plan to fund the $50k required for startup (from Planning Office presentation).
Jay Ellington responded, saying the PWCPA would look at all its resources.
Frank Principi wanted to know what would Silver Lake look like at opening should the Board approve the PWCPA proposal. Jay Ellington said there would be one to three miles of trails and lake access. The PWCPA plans to use volunteer groups, such as the Boy Scouts, to expand trails and their own maintenance resources for upkeep.
Marty Nohe asked about the specific landmarks or goals the PWCPA would establish. Jay Ellington said there would be trail access, lake access, and that the PWCPA would work with other stakeholders to finish master plan in one year.
John Jenkins asked how much benefit would the PWCPA management staff at Locust Shade be? Jay Ellington said the PWCPA has three to four park managers, and could use them. The PWCPA nature-based programming is strong and said they were partnering with Prince William Forest Park for summer programs.
Maureen Caddigan expressed concern about the need for an additional $215k per year to cover maintenance costs and observed that Locust Shade Park needs work now. She also expressed concern about financial commitments associated with the NVRPA proposal for Silver Lake.
Corey Stewart said he had no philosophical problem granting Silver Lake to a non-profit as long as there was a guarantee of facility maintenance, etc. He wanted to know more about what the property will look like under each proposal and asked about the security situation under the PWCPA?
Jay Ellington said the PWCPA planned for three and one-half full time employees (FTEs) at Silver Lake for a cost of $120k per year, and said these people would be on board by July 2009.
Mike K or John M - BRMC will have one person living on site
Corey - why is it important to have one full time ranger (to PA)?
Jay - may not be full time ranger; would have full time customer service person at site during open hours, with variety of functions
Frank Principi asked what would happen if the PWCPA pulled from another park to help at Silver Lake? Jay Ellington responded, saying the PWCPA would have to backfill.
Cory Stewart commented that BRMC proposes leaving some land to PA, what about partnership? Jay Ellington said that the PWCPA Board position has been consistent - the PWCPA must have ownership of Silver Lake.
Frank Principi asked if the PWCPA would participate in programming at the site if Silver Lake were to go to BRMC. Jay Ellington said the PWCPA must own Silver Lake.
Marty Nohe observed that the PWCPA and BRMC have different visions of the park, which prevents a partnership.
- Jim Jones - President, equine organization (a coalition group), said Silver Lake should be public property and should go to the PWCPA.
- Ed Dandar - member PW Trails & Streams, and equestrian, said Silver Lake should be public property and should go to the PWCPA.
- Keith Evans - Nokesville Horse Society, said Silver Lake should be public property, should go to the PWCPA.
- Dave Christianson, Haymarket resident, supported the BRMC proposal and commented that the PWCPA has proposed too much active recreation.
- Rich Berry - PWCPA Board member, said that Silver Lake should be public property and should go to the PWCPA.
- Scott Helberg, Vice President Nokesville Horse Society, supported the PWCPA proposal as stated in their letter of support.
- Neil Nelson PWCA and PW Trails & Streams, supported the BRMC proposal.
- Chris Brown, hiker and BRMC volunteer, said the full 500 acres is needed to build a 10-mile trail network and attract serious hikers; he supported the BRMC proposal.
- Pam Eppler supported the BRMC proposal and emphasized BRMC's role in saving the property from development.
- Amy Troddo(?) - Broad Run resident, supported the BRMC proposal.
- Marilyn Schultz, PWCA, supported the BRMC proposal.
- Jeff Shoup, Nokesville Horse Society, supported the PWCPA proposal and said that, under BRMC, the site would be a Natural Resource Area not a Park.
- Steve Merkley - Haymarket resident, said the PWCPA could earn $300,000 to $500,000 per year on property by leasing concessions and moving high volumes of people through the park; he supported the PWCPA proposal.
- Martha Hendley - Gainesville resident and Planning Commissioner, said Silver Lake should remain in public domain. She commented that the hidden cost of the BRMC proposal is road maintenance to be performed by county.
- Norma Mathers, Independent Hill resident, uses BRMC nature programs for her three kids, and supported the BRMC proposal.
- Click here to read previous citizen comments on these proposals.
The public hearing was closed; discussion followed.
John Stirrup talked about the concept of protecting land in perpetuity, maintaining Silver Lake as passive recreation site. He said that Toll Brothers bought the site for $4 million, then proffered to the public as mitigation for development. He had heard no compelling argument to move it from public domain and made a motion to convey Silver Lake to the PWCPA, which was seconded by John Jenkins.
Wally Covington concurred with John Stirrup, saying he supports the PWCPA but has concerns over funding and will not vote to convey the site to either the PWCPA or or BRMC at this time.
Marty Nohe said that he was an advocate for less government in this case. Under BRMC, the County could take back the property if BRMC doesn't comply with the agreed uses. He was disturbed by discussion indicating that the only way to do this is thru government.
Franck Principi said he could not support the motion to convey Silver Lake to the PWCPA. He also expressed reservations about giving fee simple title to BRMC, saying his preference would be for BRMC & the PWCPA to work together.
Maureen Caddigan said she would be voting for fiscally conservative approach. She pointed out that the BRMC proposal would provide 500 acres, ten miles of walking and horse trails at no cost to taxpayers. She observed that the deed to BRMC would include restricts and that the property would revert back to the County if BRMC did not honor their commitments. Mrs. Caddigan also noted that approval of the BRMC proposal would allow the County to use the $1.6 million in proffers from the Dominion rezoning to address other needs in Gainesville.
Mike May said that if Silver Lake goes to the PWCPA tonight, they won't be able to do anything with it due to funding issues. With BRMC, the County will ensure public access and uses through deed restrictions, which would guarantee public access and uses or ensure that the property was returned to the County.
Corey Stewart said that if Silver Lake goes to BRMC, the County must make certain of the uses. Would this set precedence for giving away other county land, such as Doves Landing? He suggested the Board consider a compromise and asked if BRMC would be open to a long term lease agreement with the County, with County ownership?
John McBride responded, saying BRMC must raise money to fund improvements and a standard lease agreement with the county would make this difficult, so the answer is no. However, they would be willing to discuss a license and management agreement where BRMC would operate the park at a set cost per year, which would eliminate their concerns about fundraising.
Citizens definitely count! In September, more than 50 people commented on the Silver Lake proposals through emails and public comments. All emails and speakers, save two, were in support of the Bull Run Mountain Conservancy proposal.