September 21, 2005 [This page provides some technical details and supporting documents for the items that appeared in the Free Lance-Star editorial on Tuesday, September 20, 2005. Additional material is highlighted in a different color. Read the original op-ed piece in the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. And read a follow-up, In the interest of balance: Ten reasons to not save Crow’s Nest!] There are ten things that the Stafford County Board of Supervisors can do now, immediately, to ensure that the best use is made of the land on Crow’s Nest, rich in natural, cultural and historical resources. Best of all, most of these won’t cost Stafford County residents a single new penny in taxpayer dollars! And it is imperative that the Board act now. The subdivision plan could be heard by the Planning Commission within the next 4 to 6 weeks. If approved, the property owners will gain additional rights that will almost ensure the destructive development of Crow’s Nest. 1. Direct the County Administrator to direct the Planning Department to return all plans of any type, including subdivision plans, that do not include field delineated critical resource protection areas. Believe it or not, the County has actually been speeding up development by accepting plans that do not include the required field measurements of critical resource protection areas, the environmentally sensitive buffer zones around water resources protected by the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act. The plan for Crow’s Nest is one of these. The Board could direct the County Administrator to direct the Planning Department to return any plan that does not include these “field delineated” buffers. This is consistent with the Stafford County subdivision and zoning ordinances: §28-249(b)(2), Content of Site Plans, states that all preliminary site development plans shall contain the location of streams and bodies of water. §28-249(b)(7), Content of Site Plans, states that all preliminary site development plans shall contain the limits of flood plains and critical resource protection areas. §28-249(b)(8), Content of Site Plans, states that all preliminary site development plans shall contain the location of all streams and drainage ways. §28-62(b)(1)(b), Critical Resource Protection Areas, states that development plans shall delineate the site-specific boundaries of CRPAs through an environmental assessment, and shall provide a site-specific determination of whether water bodies with perennial flows occur on site. §28-62(h)(2), Plan of development process, Environmental site assessment, further states that an environmental site assessment shall be submitted with any plan of development, and that such plan shall clearly delineate water bodies with perennial flow. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance (CBLA), has provided official guidance on how to properly field delineate the critical resource protection areas. This includes measuring, in the field with stakes and lines, the edge of the protected water resource and the edge of the buffer. CBLA provides very specific guidance on how to measure resource protection areas on steep slopes. The plan for the development of Crow’s Nest does not follow this guidance. 2. Rezone properties on the Crow’s Nest peninsula to be consistent with the adjacent properties, which are zoned A-1 (1 house per 3 acres). Currently, the properties held by Stafford Lakes Limited Partnership (also known as K&M Properties) are zoned A-2 (1 house per 1 acre).§28-35 of the Stafford County zoning ordinance states that the purpose of the A-2 district is to provide a transition between rural and urban areas when public water or sewer are provided. According to the comprehensive plan, these properties will not be served by public water and sewer. The Board should do the right thing. Rezone 48-1, 49-27 and associated properties to A-1. It is important to note that the Stafford Circuit Court recently ruled that Stafford Lakes LP has not diligently pursued the development of the property, and therefore is not vested in a particular land use zoning (read the decision). Additionally, rezoning Crow’s Nest would not be “spot zoning” because the surrounding properties are A-1. 3. Implement the steep slopes ordinance that the Board initiated nearly two years ago. All that is needed to prohibit building on slopes 25% or greater is a public hearing by the Board of Supervisors and a vote. That’s because on December 16, 2003, the Board of Supervisors adopted resolution 03-486, referring a proposed amendment regarding building on steep slopes to the Planning Commission. The Ordinance Committee of the Planning Commission reviewed and expanded the proposed amendment (O04-01), but the Planning Commission did not make any recommendations on the proposed amendment. Per Stafford County Code (§28-334), any ordinance referred to the Planning Commission by the Board and not acted on within 90 days is deemed approved by the Planning Commission, and goes back to the Board for action. Many localities in Virginia already have such provisions in their zoning ordinances. §94-38 (Article V) of the Town of South Boston subdivision ordinance prohibits building on land which is “…topographically unsuitable by reason of steep slopes of 15 percent or greater that will require extensive grading or unusual construction practices in order for development to take place…” and does not allow this land to be included in calculating lot size. The City of Waynesboro (§74-8), Bedford (§5-2), and the County of New Kent (§91-67) all have similar provisions regarding steep slopes. 4. Pass the Agricultural Performance Standards, an even more comprehensive ordinance. The Planning Commission did their job and held the public hearing and vote on this ordinance last year. Now it’s time for the Board to do their job. This ordinance would go a long way towards ensuring that appropriate construction takes place on properties with steep slopes and perennial streams because it prohibits building on slopes of 25% or higher, expands buffers around perennial creeks, and excludes steep slopes and buffers from the calculation of building lot sizes. The County of Chesterfield has already taken this kind of action. Their ordinance says that a “buildable lot means any lot that has at least ten thousand (10,000) s.f. of contiguous buildable area exclusive of steep slopes greater than fifteen (15) percent, wetlands, RPA’s, floodplains, reservoir protection overlay district buffer, river protection overlay district buffer, and drainfield.” 5. Amend the zoning ordinance to apply Chesapeake Bay Act resource protection area requirements to intermittent streams, steep slopes and erodible soils. Currently, the County requires buffers only around perennial streams. Stafford should follow the lead of other localities, such as Alexandria, Henrico, Ashland, Fairfax, Virginia Beach and Arlington, and expand the buffers to include creeks that flow part of the year or are at the head of perennial streams when they are in close proximity to highly erosive soils, and slopes of 25% or greater that are adjacent to creeks. For example, Arlington’s Chesapeake Bay provisions state that “When necessary to protect the integrity of the RPA buffer, contiguous slopes greater than or equal to fifteen (15) percent located adjacent to the landward boundary of the RPA buffer may also be designated by the county board.” (§68-5) Several localities have applied expanded Chesapeake Bay requirements selectively, requiring them only in particular areas of the locality, or only for specific streams. 6. Amend the comprehensive plan to designate the Crow’s Nest peninsula as open space/park land. Although largely symbolic, this would signify the County’s commitment to preserving Crow’s Nest, and would be the basis for future planning decisions. 7. Designate the Crow’s Nest peninsula as an historical overlay district. This would not prohibit building within the historical district, but would require building plans to be approved by the Architectural Review Board, which has the authority to order that buildings are consistent with the character of the district. The board of supervisors may designate by ordinance historic resources to be included in the Historic Resource Overlay District. According to §28-58 of the Stafford County Code, the purpose of the Historical Resource Overlay District is to protect places which have special public value because of features relating to the heritage of the County, State and the Nation, and which warrant conservation and preservation. Perhaps most importantly, this ordinance specifies that the owner of a designated historical resource may not demolish or raze the resource unless the owner has made a “bona fida offer” to sell the property to the county or other organization who would agree to preserve the resource and the land, and given the county at least a year to purchase the resource at “…a price reasonably related to its fair market value.” 8. Refuse to cooperate in providing road access to the planned subdivision. The existing unimproved, dirt roads leading to the proposed subdivision on Crow’s Nest were deeded to the County in the 1970’s. The County may not have to allow these roads to be paved by developers.The County can also refuse to pass a resolution asking VDOT to accept subdivision roads on Crow’s Nest into the state system, which would mean that VDOT would not maintain them (clear snow, pave, etc.). Both actions would discourage inappropriate high density development on the peninsula. 9. Vote to accept the State’s $30 million low-interest loan to purchase Crow’s Nest. This would show the property owner—and citizens—that the County is serious about purchasing the property at a fair market value. 10. Use eminent domain as a last resort. The current Crow’s Nest property owners seem to be trying to extort windfall profits from taxpayers. Under eminent domain, the Court would establish the fair market value of a property. Although in the past year Stafford Lakes LP, and Kamel Tabarra, Walid Kattan, John O’Connell and Warren Montouri, the officers of the out-of-state controlling corporation, have reportedly demanded anywhere from $56 million or more for the property , when it comes to paying property taxes the owners haven’t challenged the County’s fair market value tax assessment: just $14 million for the land that may be under discussion for purchase. Eminent domain would protect taxpayer dollars, ensure a fair market return for the owners, and because no one lives on the properties, no one would be displaced.