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Prince William Open Space

PWCA Preliminary Comments for the 2013 Rural Crescent Study

September 25 2013 -- Prince William Conservation Alliance (PWCA) strongly believes the purposes, goals and objectives established through this study should develop healthy communities countywide, including a focus on protecting green open space and community appearance in the Development Area.

We are concerned that some information provided as part of the survey presents a misleading picture of the Rural Area. The introduction states the Rural Area covers 117,000 acres, which is significantly larger than the previously published acreage for this area.

In addition, Question 7 implies that Prince William County government had a part in preserving 28% of the rural area, when in fact most, perhaps all, of the preserved land is contained in state and federal parks, private conservation and historic easements, wetland banks and portions of MCB Quantico.

The 28% claim is also inconsistent with the county’s definition for protected open space. We hope the study will establish consistent statistics that focus on privately owned properties, exclude properties where the county did not participate in preservation efforts and has no authority to direct land uses, and represent existing conditions for the Rural Area more accurately.

To improve transparency and constructive discussion in future public meetings, we encourage the Planning Department to define what it means by “permanently preserved” land, identify how many acres the county (vs. state/Federal agencies and non-government organizations) has preserved in the Rural Area and display those sites on maps.

We encourage the County to explore residents’ views on local investments to protect green open space. Residents should understand that open space preservation provides the county with an opportunity to pay a little now to avoid paying a lot more later to offset the impacts of additional impervious surfaces, and build and maintain schools, fire and rescue, and other locally funded community services outside the development area.

A Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program, prioritizing properties within the Rural Area and SRR district, is one opportunity that can help achieve this goal.  We also encourage the county to join the conservation partnership formed by MCB Quantico, which could provide 50% of purchase costs for both purchase of development rights and land acquisition projects.

We look forward to hearing more about opportunities for a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, which could provide a vehicle to transfer density from the Rural Area to redevelopment districts and, perhaps, within the Rural Area. This could also provide an opportunity to convert residential development rights to commercial and direct these to targeted redevelopment districts.

Any PDR or TDR programs established by the county should include information on impacts to the Development Area and describe techniques that will be used to mitigate effects of increased density to east Prince William communities, including investments for transportation infrastructure, additional parkland, etc.

We cannot support extending sewer into the Rural Area and have concerns about regulations governing rural cluster development, where applications often request access to public sewer. In addition, current regulations call for preservation of a relatively small percentage of the property, and do not require permanent protection or ensure connectivity between conserved open space areas. The intent of cluster development – to protect green open space, environmental resources, wildlife habitats and community appearance – should be clarified and regulations better aligned with these goals.

We strongly support development of a map identifying environmental resources as a foundation for completing a green open space plan, beginning with the Rural Area and the mid-county SRR District. Without an established plan, connectivity between areas protected through cluster and other development would be largely random, resulting in fragmented green open space and wildlife habitats.

We encourage the County to consider a Zoning Ordinance amendment to revise the process for family subdivisions to match state law, eliminating loopholes that have been exploited to allow excessive development.