By Morgan Edwards
Plans for Wilderness Crossing, the proposed 2,602-acre mixed-use development at the eastern edge of Orange County, have officially been submitted to the Orange County Department of Planning and Zoning for review and feedback. According to documents made available by the department, landowner Charles “Chip” King submitted 21 applications for zoning map amendments on March 12 and 13. The first three applications were signed directly by King and the other 18 were authored by KEG Associates III LLC, a corporation set up to oversee the rezoning process. KEG Associates III is represented by Kenneth “Kenny” Dotson, a local business owner and Charles W. Payne Jr., a lawyer with Hirschler Law Firm’s Fredericksburg office.
King’s land holdings fall completely within “Subarea 4” also known as Wilderness Run of the Germanna-Wilderness Area (GWA). A development plan was created for the GWA in 2013 and formally adopted by the Orange Board of Supervisors in 2015 and subsequently added to the county’s comprehensive plan.
The GWA encompasses most of the eastern end of Orange County, bounded by the Rapidan River and Culpeper County to the north, Spotsylvania County to the east and south and the Lake of the Woods subdivision to the west.
Most of the land owned by King is undeveloped and vacant except for a few low-density residential pockets. It sits on the north side of the crucial junction of Route 20 and Route 3, and extends west to Lake of the Woods. Another notable landmark that is adjacent to the property is the site of the Battle of the Wilderness that took place in 1864 during the American Civil War. The battlefield is now one of the four included in the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, which is governed and protected by the National Park Service (NPS).
Not far to the west along Route 3 is Germanna Community College and the site of Fort Germanna, a German settlement founded by former Virginia Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood in 1714.
Needless to say, all signs point to Wilderness Crossing being at the center of the fast-growing Route 3 corridor between Culpeper and Fredericksburg if the development comes to fruition. King and KEG Associates III have requested to have the 20 parcels that make up the property rezoned from a mix of Agricultural, Residential, Commercial and Industrial to Planned Development — Mixed Use (PMD). The total timeframe for the project is approximately 30 years and would be broken up into phases. Eleven distinct neighborhoods are proposed for the development. The first 10-year phase will likely include 740 homes (townhomes, single-family), 260 apartment units and an estimated 125,000 square feet of retail space. Additionally, this phase calls for an 80-bed senior living facility.
District 5 Supervisor Lee Frame (whose district includes Lake of the Woods) said that the formal review process for a proposed development like Wilderness Crossing has a number of layers, beginning with the Acquisition Review Committee (ARC). The committee is comprised of representatives from different offices in the county and other related agencies. Frame said that would include the Rapidan Service Authority, public safety officials such as Sheriff Mark Amos, the Culpeper Soil and Water District Board, Orange County Public Schools and the county’s department of public works.
“Both myself and District 4 Supervisor Jim Crozier and a couple of people from the planning commission would be on the ARC,” he said. “Normally, we don’t have supervisors or planning commission members on the acquisition review committee, but this is a pretty large project and it’s not like a lot of the ones we usually get. So, we’ll be looking at it much earlier.”
After the initial review stage, the ARC will break up into smaller groups that will look over all of the documents and plans submitted by the Wilderness Crossing development team. They will take their comments, recommendations and concerns and share them with the ARC. The developers can then address any problems that arise.
“The public has an opportunity to comment through the formal public hearing at the planning commission and the one at the board of supervisors,” Frame said.
“That will probably happen in May or June,” he continued. “But that could be a somewhat flexible timeframe. If you look at the economic impact statements, they are talking about possibly starting construction sometime in 2023.”
Now that plans have been submitted, discussions have begun in earnest about how quickly the first phase of Wilderness Crossing can be built if approved (a 10-year timeline is projected) and what details need to be adjusted to make the development work for the community.
A small gathering consisting of King, Dotson, Frame, Crozier and Jim White (District 2) met in the conference room of the terminal building at the Orange County Airport on March 31 to discuss the proposed project.
“As we are moving closer, Mr. King and Mr. Dotson wanted to make sure that we understood their thoughts on this.” Frame explained.
King expressed his hope that Wilderness Crossing could break ground soon and offered to help the BOS as much as possible.
But there are several areas of primary concern, particularly with a project of this scope and scale — most notably water and roads.
The applicants behind Wilderness Crossing have proposed an onsite impoundment (reservoir) to meet water supply needs in the neighborhood. King said that creating an impoundment could make the development a suitable location for a tourist destination similar to the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg.
Frame and Crozier, who both serve on the board of the Rapidan Service Authority, which provides water and sewer services for much of the Route 3 corridor, said the organization likely would provide services for Wilderness Crossing as well. To that end, they mentioned that the RSA had acquired a 1 million gallon per day Pall membrane storage device that will boost the water capacity in the GWA.
Meanwhile, a fair amount of the meeting was devoted to discussing the Route 20 and Route 3 interchange and possible realignment.
“We have certain cards that can be played with the National Park Service because we have some of the core battlefield land they would like to have,” King said.
He hinted that those land holdings could be used as leverage to push the state to realign the intersection of the two roads. To do so would require the park service and VDOT to agree.
“NPS leadership does change,” Crozier said. “It may actually be changing in a more favorable manner for something like that to occur. We’ll see.”
A number of voluntary rezoning proffers have been included in the application such as a fire station, public parks, hiking and bike trails, a site for a new school and a library. A potential amphitheater at the junction of Routes 20 and 3 was floated. The proposed mixed-use development would include a centralized town center that incorporates retail, office and entertainment space and would be within walking distance of residential zones. Walkability and connectivity are both fundamental to the Wilderness Crossing concept, a point King and Dotson repeatedly emphasized.
Later in the meeting, the developers and supervisors talked about the new nursing building set to break ground at Germanna Community College and the impact it could have on the region. The state-of-the-art facility will be within the GWA and King said it could spur a surge in healthcare demand from the area’s rapidly aging population. All those at the airport meeting saw the Germanna building as a net positive when it comes to making Wilderness Crossing more attractive to residents.
The Wilderness Crossing team plans to create a draft checklist and confirm proffers before the next meeting. While no official date was set, the end of April or early May was discussed as a reasonable target.
To view renderings of the residential and commercial portions of Wilderness Crossing and join the development mailing list visit www.wildernesscrossingva.com.