Public Meeting: December 16, 7:00pm, at the Edward Kelly Leadership Center, Board Meeting Room, 14715 Bristow Road, Manassas
Oops, we discovered a graveyard AFTER approving the location of the 12th High School. Oops, we discovered a rare woodland habitat AFTER approving the new school at Silver Lake.
There is a pattern because the county decision process has a fatal flaw - we don't do our homework before we approve public facilities. Fortunately, there is an easy fix, as described below. Use the link HERE to send an email and encourage Supervisors to put the horse before the cart.
The 11th hour discovery of 11 graves dating back to the mid-1800’s at the site of the 12th high school has attracted attention and demonstrated community support for preserving local history.
Better late than never you might say. But, according to Prince William County Schools (PWCS), it’s already too late. Plans have been made without consideration of the cemetery and they cannot be changed, the graves must be moved.
At the November 19 2013 School Board meeting, PWCS Finance and Support Services staff said any other option would involve adjustments to plans, approvals and contracts that could increase costs by $6 million or more.
If this sounds familiar, you’re right. A similar drama played at PWCS in 2009, featuring the 11th hour discovery of globally rare plant communities at Silver Lake (upland swamp depression and basic oak-hickory forest). Silver Lake, now a public park and middle school, was given to PWC by Toll Brothers in exchange for 420 additional new homes at Dominion Valley, as part of a rezoning approved in July 2006.
At Silver Lake, PWCS ultimately decided they would not take advantage of the opportunity to swap land with the adjacent property owner, Prince William County Parks Dept., to preserve the unique wetland and forest… the discovery came too late to consider a change in plans.
The last minute discovery of globally rare natural areas at Silver Lake raised eyebrows and questions about why these unique natural areas were not found in a timely manner.
Today development plans for the 12th high school are raising the same issues. It’s like déjà vu all over again.
Improvements to development review processes would help make information on natural and cultural resources available before the Planning Commission holds a public hearing and votes on Public Facility Reviews.
At the November 26 2013 Board of Supervisors meeting (see video above), Occoquan District Supervisor Mike May with support from Brentsville Supervisor Wally Covington took the first steps to creating a better process.
Supervisor May requested staff to develop changes to the PFR process, with a focus on making an Environmental Constraints Analysis and Phase 1 Archeological Study available prior to the time a PFR occurs.
Supervisor May noted that, while the Planning Commission approved the PFR for the 12th high school by a 7-1 vote, we might have been able to avoid the current situation if the PC had additional information in a timely manner.
Supervisor Covington agreed and expanded the directive to include concerns about changes the BOCS made “a couple years ago right after the Brentsville, Patriot, High School process went in and we neutered the PFR process for the Planning Commission. I think we ought to reverse ourselves and I would ask staff to take a look at that.”
At this point, preservation of the cemetery at the 12th high school site appears out of the question. PWCS is opposed and has already moved the graves. Remains have been moved to Towson in preparation for re-burial at Stonewall Garden Cemetery in Manassas.
Improved processes can make a big difference for future projects but they can’t do the job alone. With public support, new procedures can create transparent processes, increase opportunities for community involvement, and help ensure development projects match community needs.
For government projects, it’s important to remember that PWCS and other agencies are a part of our community. It is reasonable to expect decisions that support safe, healthy, and attractive communities, including protecting valuable community resources. The School Board plays an important role in setting goals and policy. Their leadership is key to achieving positive changes that better reflect community wishes and goals.