Property that once was zoned for thousands of homes in Albemarle County has now been designated as rural land for a park.
The Biscuit Run Park property, which covers about 1,200 acres, had been rezoned in 2007 for about 800 acres of residential development and 400 acres for a park, but after the Great Recession, the state bought the property in 2009.
In 2018, then Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors announced a 99-year lease between the county and the The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation for the land at no cost, other than those needed to maintain the property. The county is required to leave 80% of the property under forest cover.
The department in 2013 adopted the three-phase master plan for Biscuit Run State Park at an estimated cost of about $42 million. Since funding for a state park was never included in the state’s budget, it’s now being planned as a county park.
On Wednesday night, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning of the property from Neighborhood Model District to Rural Areas.
The board adopted the Biscuit Run Park Master Plan last December, and the development cost for three phases could be up to about $34 million. The board has requested $15 million over five years from the state.
Though the land is owned by the state, which is not bound by local zoning regulations, the county attorney has advised that since the county is leasing the land, and it subjects itself to its own zoning laws, that the land must be rezoned for park use.
“The current Neighborhood Model zoning does not permit a public park over the entirety of the property, so in order to change this condition, and begin development of the park county needs to rezone the property to a more appropriate designation that allows for large park,” said Megan Nedostup, a county principal planner. “While noting that the Commonwealth is not subject to local zoning regulations, the Department of Conservation and Recreation has provided consent for the rezoning.”
The first phase of the Master Plan for the park is currently in design, she said.
“Phase one A includes a rustic parking area, trail access and an entrance off of Avon, and phase one B includes expanded parking areas, a maintenance shed and other entrance and trail improvements,” Nedostup said.
The entrance would be at the southern terminus of Avon Street Extended.
Phase one A is expected to be completed in the fall of 2021.
During the public hearing, Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local business advocacy group, pointed out that this was land in the development area.
“The question is when are you going to replace it?” he asked the board “When are you going to have that discussion?”
“Where are we going to grow when you do this, which you’re going to do, which is fine,” he said. “When are we going to have that conversation? I’ve asked several times this year and in years past. It’s not going to be a one-year conversation; it’s going to be a four- or five-year conversation. Where are you going to grow next?”
Supervisor Liz Palmer said she was unhappy at first when it was decided that this land was going to become a park because money was already spent to put in sewer lines.
“But now that I see what has happened in that area, the amount of development that we’ve had and more development that’s going to be going into Southwood, I have to admit, I’m just trying to deal with the traffic and everything and I’m glad it’s a park,” she said.
Chairman Ned Gallaway said the board has talked about green space and park activity in the development areas.
“We’re carving out little niches up around the river on [U.S.] 29, but this is a nice amenity that those in the urban and development area will be able to access in a very convenient way that you can’t always say that you are able to do when you live in an urban area,” he said.
Supervisor Rick Randolph said when the park was agreed upon by the board, there was a lack of recognition of possible consequences of this area being a residential development
“What we’ve come to recognize … is that there are tremendous constraints that are out there with growth and that growth going forward has to be more holistically managed, with looking at all the ramifications of it, to ensure that that growth also helps pay for the ramifications, rather than a beat subsidized solely by existing taxpayers,” he said.
New polling place
The Albemarle Branchlands Precinct will be moving from The Center, formerly known as the Senior Center, to the Church of the Incarnation Activity Center at 1455 Incarnation Drive.
“They let us know some time ago that this November 5 election will be the last one that they would be able to host us there and… we have looked around and the best location we could find was the activity center,” said Clarice Schermerhorn, the county’s elections manager.
Schermerhorn said the church will be used for the Democratic Presidential Primary on March 3.