The Comprehensive Plan and Public Sewer in the Rural Crescent
The Comprehensive Plan defines Prince William's Rural Crescent and includes strategies to protect this area. These strategies focus on restricting access to public sewer within the Rural Crescent. They are effective because the poor soils that characterize the Rural Crescent area will not support the sewerage systems needed for higher density development.
The Comprehensive Plan supports extension of public sewer to properties with existing structures where sewerage systems have failed and no alternative exists.
Up to this point, the Comprehensive Plan has not been interpreted to support an anticipated failure of sewerage systems on undeveloped land.
However, one Comprehensive Plan action strategy in this area fails to specifically reference "existing structures," which is the basis of Fireside Wesleyan's request for access to public sewer, as stated in their November 2007 letter to Woodbridge Supervisor Hilda Barg:
"In light of this documented history [of nearby septic failures], allowing the Church to construct on public sewer fits squarely within the existing Comprehensive Plan governing the limited use of public sewer in the Rural Area. Sewer Policy 3 Action Strategy 7 of the Comprehensive Plan states that:
Within the Rural Area, permit voluntary use of public sewer systems in a subwatershed that has a documented history of sewerage system failures, as determined by the Health Department.
The existing Comprehensive Plan, therefore, allows the church to be served by public sewer, under the existing narrow exceptions to the prohibition of sewer in the Rural Crescent. Thus, the Church does not believe it needs a comprehensive plan amendment in order for it to be served by public sewer."
If approved, this new interpretation of the Comprehensive Plan Sewer Chapter would open the door to a variety of applications requesting access to public sewer and effectively change the Comprehensive Plan Land Use vision for Prince William.
Comprehensive Plan Sewer Chapter - Access to Public Sewer in the Rural Crescent
INTENT: Development in the Rural Area shall occur without public sewer facilities, except where provided for in this chapter—to address specific public health concerns or to serve a specific public facility. Any extension of public sewers into the Rural Area, however, shall not be used as a justification for increasing the residential densities that are shown on the Long-Range Land Use Plan Map for the Rural Area. The Sewer Plan discourages alternative sewerage systems in the Rural Area, where more than one lot is to share such a system.
SEWER POLICY 3: Prohibit the extension of public sewer into the Rural Area, except under special circumstances that maintain the land use densities delineated in the Long-Range Land Use Plan Map and uphold the policies and action strategies outlined in the Comprehensive Plan.
1. All new development within the Rural Area shall be served by individual-lot, on-site sewerage systems. Public sewer systems—except under the special circumstances that are outlined in the action strategies contained herein, and as specifically permitted under the action strategies in the Nokesville Sector Plan for the “core area” identified in that sector plan—shall not be extended into the Rural Area.
2. Support a 100-percent reserve requirement for all drainfields—or equivalent mechanisms for achieving the same goal, regardless of percolation rate—for all developments in the County that are not developed with public sewer.
3. Develop, adopt, implement, and enforce a periodic waste disposal system maintenance-reporting program in order to ensure proper waste disposal.
4. Encourage the Prince William County Health District to permit the use of individual-site alternative sewerage systems that do not require surface water discharge.
5. Develop a Wellhead Protection Program and Groundwater Recharge Zone Protection Program—utilizing procedural guidelines and information available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Virginia Groundwater Protection Steering Committee—to protect or improve the groundwater quality and prevent well contamination from faulty or improperly located private waste disposal systems.
6. To serve a public facility—such as a school, fire station, or library—allow for the extension of public sewer into the Rural Area.
7. Within the Rural Area, permit the voluntary use of public sewer systems in a subwatershed that has a documented history of sewerage system failures, as determined by the Health Department.
8. Require existing structures whose failed sewerage systems have no on-site remediation—and where the property line is located within 300 feet of a public sewer line with adequate capacity—to connect to such line.
9. Permit existing structures whose property line is within 1,000 feet of a sewer line extended into the Rural Area under the conditions of AS-6, AS-7, or AS-8 above to connect to the line, if there is adequate capacity on that line.
10. Where appropriate, the Prince William County Service Authority will make reasonable efforts to accommodate existing structures along the length of proposed sewer lines; however, no guarantee of service will be made and no increase in capacity beyond that shown on the Long-Range Land Use Plan Map shall be provided.
11. The existence or extension of a public sewer system to serve a site shall not promote increased densities that would not otherwise be allowed given the application of the various chapters of the Comprehensive Plan and relevant compatibility issues.
12. The existence or extension of a public sewer system in the Rural Area shall not provide justification for altering the land use classifications on the Long-Range Land Use Plan Map.
13. Where a sector plan or planning study recommended in the Long-Range Land Use Plan and approved by the Board of County Supervisors calls for extension of public sewer into the Rural Area, permit such extension, so long as such action is consistent with the remainder of the Comprehensive Plan.
14. The cost of any extensions/connections of/to a public system must be borne by the property owners connecting to the system.
15. Investigate the feasibility of obtaining grant funds for use by the County for sewer extension to areas with a high potential for on-site waste disposal system failure.
Development application requests new interpretation of the Comprehensive Plan to gain access to public sewer in the Rural Crescent.
Fireside Wesleyan Church wants to build a new facility on public sewer in the Rural Crescent, west of Route 15 near the intersection with Route 29. Although everyone welcomes churches, approval of public sewer to this undeveloped property could result in a broad change the Comprehensive Plan restrictions on access to public sewer in the Rural Crescent and open the area to development at higher densities.
You cannot pick and choose, what is fair for a church is fair for developers. Thus, the concerns focus on the Comprehensive Plan and not on any particular use: religious and residential applications are approved using the same rules.
In this case, the applicant has submitted a Comprehensive Plan Amendment requesting access to public sewer as well as a Special Use Permit to allow construction of religious facilities. However, the applicant claims that they do not need a Comprehensive Plan Amendment because the existing rules allow undeveloped land in the Rural Crescent to be served by public sewer if surrounding properties have documented sewerage system failures.
In the past, this Comprehensive Plan rule has been applied only to properties with existing structures in order to address existing health and safety issues associated with sewerage system failures. A new interpretation based on the speculation that a future septic system on undeveloped land will fail would change the Comprehensive Plan and open the Rural Crescent to new development proposals at higher densities.
In addition, the Board vote on this application does not follow standard processes. The County's established policy has been not to vote on development applications after an election and before the new Board is seated. Supervisors recently changed this policy to allow votes on commercial applications. However, this particular application was scheduled for a Board vote in January and recently moved to December 4, catching citizens concerned with protecting the Rural Crescent by surprise.
If Supervisors are interested in allowing all Rural Crescent properties access to public sewer and changing the Comprehensive Plan, the appropriate way to proceed is through the Comprehensive Plan update and not by a precedent-setting action on a single development application.
The Rural Crescent has been instrumental in changing the County's reputation from the home of low-end retail to a quality community that is attractive to a broad range of commercial development. It has helped the County focus new development in areas where existing infrastructure can be maximized, create opportunities for a diversity of residential housing, and protect our public drinking water supply, scenic viewsheds and the rural character of west Prince William. Protecting the Rural Crescent protects our wallets as well as our watersheds. The Rural Crescent is working for Prince William not against us.