´╗┐PWCAPrince William Conservation Alliance

´╗┐Community Report, January 29 2021

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Planting trees in east PWC

The Long Branch Development in the Rural Crescent 

On January 19 2021 five Prince William Supervisors ignored the recommendations of the Planning Commission, Planning staff, School Board, MCB Quantico, the District Supervisor, and approximately 600 citizens who wrote or spoke in support of maintaining the Rural Crescent and voted to change the Comprehensive Plan. Their vote removed land from the Rural Crescent, tripled the number of homes currently allowed, and approved a connection to public sewer. In exchange the developer promises to “gift” a “natural area preserve” to the County for public use.

Trading new houses for green open space?

There is no question the county needs more preserved open space. But this open space comes at an expense that won’t be covered by the new residents in this community. In exchange for the open space, most of which is unbuildable, taxpayers will have to cover costs for new roads, schools, and other public services.

Also, the new impervious surfaces from houses, roads etc. will increase stormwater runoff and challenge the quality of the natural area over time. This project was sold on the premise that it would preserve the quality of Long Branch, but that outcome is doubtful.

PWCA recognizes the need for equity. Everyone wants greener communities and natural area parkland that is close to home. This new open space provides an amenity for residents of the new community, not residents who live in densely populated and underserved areas. Not everyone can drive halfway across the county to enjoy a walk in the woods.

Keeping taxes lower.

The Rural Crescent was adopted to slow residential development in areas with inadequate infrastructure to support new homes. Today the county is still trying to balance tax revenue and expenses for Prince William residents so that they can afford high quality services.

Putting houses where there are no jobs, schools, transit or shopping re-directs local investments away from activity centers, increases traffic congestion and becomes a tax burden for everyone.

The approval of the Preserve at Long Branch opens the door to sprawling pockets of cluster developments  – something that the Rural Crescent was created to prevent.

Protecting drinking water

The Rural Crescent protects streams and public drinking water supplies. All land in the Rural Crescent flows to the Occoquan Reservoir, and Rural Crescent residents depend on groundwater. However, the groundwater level in the only monitoring well in the Rural Crescent has been falling since 2004. This is a warning that we are depleting the aquifer.

In 2018, the Virginia Legislature amended the comprehensive planning process to include a requirement to ensure the continued availability, quality and sustainability of groundwater and surface water resources on a County level.

Adding development to the Rural Crescent without a program to measure and monitor the groundwater that the whole Rural Crescent depends on is like driving with your eyes closed. [Elizabeth Ward]

Supporting transparent processes and community participation.

Despite the claims of the officials who said they have “disdain for people who manufacture false information, if you go to the sections of the county, some people don’t even know what the Rural Crescent is,” citizens have taken advantage of the many opportunities to learn more. Over the past ten years, hundreds of people from throughout the County have attended the many workshops and forums hosted by the Planning office, PWCA, Mid County Civic Association and others.

Citizens have done their homework. They are largely knowledgeable, credible, and consistent in their support for the Rural Crescent. A 2014 Prince William County survey showed that 80% of respondents supported preserving land in the Rural Crescent using a combination of public and private funds.

The Rural Crescent has been a success. 

Supervisors can choose to protect the Rural Crescent’s benefits and remaining farmland  by keeping densities low, by implementing proven incentives that address the challenges of today. A funded PDR program, expanding the Land Use Assessment Program, and creating a staff position for an Agriculture Development Director are just a few examples.

PWCA works to establish desirable, equitable, sustainable communities, promote environmental stewardship, and create opportunities for residents to engage in decisions that affect the quality of their lives and the future of their communities. Together we can face these challenges and create an equitable, sustainable vision for Prince William County, our home.

In the News:

Democratic supervisors open to more homes, industrial uses in the ‘rural crescent’; Prince William Times, January 28 2021

Prince William Supervisor flips position on preserving the rural area, takes heat after approving 99 new homes; Potomac Local; January 23 2021

Prince William board approves housing development in 'Rural Crescent'; InsideNova, January 20 2021

Why the ‘rural crescent’ is still relevant, by Liz Cronauer

A letter to Supervisors, by Mike Davidson

Rural crescent is a gem to be preserved, not destroyed, by Lori Fen; January 28 2021

We want the rural crescent left alone, by Norman Rae Wilson; January 29 2021

Nokesville CBC

Red-headed Woodpecker by Larry MeadeOn December 27, 2020, 28 birders volunteered their time and expertise to survey the Nokesville Circle for the 121st Christmas Bird Count (CBC), which is the longest-running community science project in the nation. The expertise and commitment of volunteers is a testament to the value of citizen scientists in studies of bird populations as well as other wildlife. 

PWCA has sponsored the Nokesville CBC for the past 12 years since 2008. The pandemic limited group sizes this year, but even so, volunteers reported counting over 17,000 individuals and 89 species, a high count for the Nokesville circle.

This year the CBC was a beautiful day with a few surprises. A Rough-legged Hawk was spotted at the landfill. A large flock of 49 Chipping Sparrows was seen, breaking the previous high of 11. A white Bluejay was spotted in Quantico. 

The Quantico birders also reported 11 Red-headed Woodpeckers (always an awe-inspired sighting). The team at the PWC landfill team tested their counting prowess as Ring-billed Gulls en masse totaled 3,000. Interestingly, Pine Siskins were absent from the count this year although this is an irruption year for them and they have reportedly been congregating by the dozens around birdfeeders in Lake Ridge.

The Nokesville count circle, centered at Merrimac Farm WMA, covers a diverse landscape at the edge of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area and captures the transition from coastal plain to piedmont ecosystems. 

More natural area parkland needed

Prince William County can acquire more parkland slowly through purchases and proffers, but the Board of County Supervisors can act fast to improve access to existing parks. The opportunity to make it easier for existing residents to get to existing green spaces is particularly important in communities developed before 1980, including those in Woodbridge, Dale City, Yorkshire, and in the Dumfries area.   

It is time to balance the investment made over the last 70 years in new roads that prioritized car and truck travel. It is time to invest in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.  

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the need for alternative ways to get around without being enclosed in vehicles. The coming e-bike revolution will greatly enhance the number of people interested in safe paths for short trips.
The Prince William Conservation Alliance (PWCA) appreciates the proactive leadership by the Dept. of Parks, Recreation and Tourism in developing a comprehensive trails network. 

The County is currentlly updating the Comprehensive Plan, including the Mobility and Land Use Chapters, and Rural Area Study. This is a good time to share your views. Email Supervisors here.     

Because the 2040 Comprehensive Plan will not be finalized until after the upcoming budget cycle, we offer three suggestions now for funding that you can include in the FY21 budget and FY22-27 Capital Improvements Program (CIP):

  • Prioritize maintenance of existing trails. In particular, replace the bridges removed from Broad Run Trail and Neabsco Greenway so those broken trail segments can be re-connected.

  • Close short gaps in trails to connect Dumfries, Haymarket, Occoquan, and Quantico to the countywide trails network, making those towns more attractive for economic development and improving quality of life in areas with a large number of people.  

  • Partner with the School Board to ensure Safe Routes to Schools are defined, dangers at intersections are minimized, and sidewalks/paths are improved, so students can get healthy exercise between home and school and avoid sitting within enclosed school buses.

The Barnes House: A History of Our Community

Barnes House

Monday, February 1, 7pm
RSVP required, click here to register

Join PWCA and local historian Bill Backus as we explore our county's diverse history through the lens of the Barnes House Historic Site.

Built in 1797 the Barnes house is an average Prince William County residence. But the people who lived here were anything but typical.

First used as a tavern, in the 1899 Eppa Barnes bought the house where he was born into slavery. Although the Barnes House has moved from its original location, the restored building highlights diverse history of Prince William County.

A native of Connecticut, Bill Backus graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a degree in Historic Preservation. Prior to his service with Prince William County, Bill has worked with the National Park Service at Vicksburg National Military Park and Petersburg National Battlefield. Working with the county for over 10 years, Bill currently serves as Preservationist/Curator.

Stop Mowing, Start Growing! 3rd Annual Native Plant Symposium for Beginners

Aster and Bee

Saturday, February 6, 2021
9:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST
Cost: $5
For event details and to register click here.

Whether you are new native plants and what they can do for your property or looking for alternative landscaping ideas this event is for you! Native plants can:

  • Create a beautiful yard
  • Save time so you can enjoy other activities
  • Create habitat for birds & pollinators
  • Save money on fertilizer & pesticides
  • Improve Water Quality
  • Curb Erosion

Sponsors:  Prince William Conservation Alliance; Virginia Native Plant Society; Northern Virginia Community College; Prince William Soil & Water Conservation District; PWC Watershed Management Branch; Plant NOVA Natives; VA Cooperative Extension; 

Vanishing Water? From the Rural Crescent to the Occoquan Reservoir


Thursday, February 11, 7pm
RSVP required, click here to register

We are at the crossroads in Prince William County. Supervisors are considering plans for development of the Rural Crescent, an area completely dependent on groundwater to supply its homes.

The groundwater level in the only monitoring well in the Rural Crescent has been falling since 2004. This is a warning that we are depleting the aquifer. Join PWCA and Elizabeth Ward to learn about our supply of fresh drinking water.

Cockpit Point on the Potomac: A Historical Refuge

Rob OrrisonMonday, February 22, 7pm
RSVP required, click here to register

Join PWCA and PWC Historic Preservation Division Manager Rob Orrison for a brief historic overview of the property, current conditions, and a sneak peek preview of some of the plans for the future Cockpit Point Civil War Park.

This approximate 110 acres of undeveloped land along the Potomac River near Dumfries was proffered to PWC by the developer Sun Cal. It is a hidden treasure that includes a large pond, wetlands, river frontage, and the historically significant Cockpit Point battery, along with Civil War campsites.

Rob Orrison has authored three books on the Civil War and American Revolution and also serves as the President of the Virginia Association of Museums. He is the Division Manager for the Prince William County Historic Preservation Division of the Department Parks, Rec and Tourism.