Why “The Preserve” Does Not Spell The End Of Rural Preservation

Why “The Preserve” Does Not Spell The End Of Rural Preservation

A Message From Supervisor Boddye:

I’m aware that a number of constituents are concerned with  the Board of Supervisors’ recent decision to approve The Preserve at Long Branch, a 340-acre development of 99 homes and 190 acres of parkland along the Occoquan River. As some have noted, I myself was not always a proponent of this project. However, I choose to keep an open mind and open dialogue as the project evolved in response to public and County feedback. 

Foremost on my mind was how an increased demand on schools, traffic and public safety might affect existing residents. The applicant addressed this in part by providing $3,905,743 to offset impacts, voluntarily applying pre-2016 proffer formulas that provide the County with significantly more than what is currently required under state law. 

Notably, between the last Planning Commission review and the Board vote, the applicant also lowered the requested number of homes by nearly 20 percent and split the community into two sections to lessen potential congestion and impact on the Rural Crescent. By dividing the project this way, only 30 homes—fewer than what would have been achievable under by-right zoning—have egress into the Rural Crescent. The remaining 69 homes will only be accessible through the Development Area on the eastern side of the property. With an average of acres per home, the density will be lower than that of most adjacent neighborhoods in this established residential area. 

Of course, central to the debate around this project, as with all things Rural Crescent, is conservation. If fully preserving this land were an option, I would have wholeheartedly supported it. The reality is, this land was always slated for development. Under existing zoning, it would have been divided into 32 homes on 10-acre lots. Denying The Preserve at Long Branch would have meant forever losing public access and preservation of the 1,500 feet of waterfront, 170 acres of pristine woodland and several historical sites proffered to the County as part of this project, which will also include 2 miles of trails built by the applicant.

In addition to the parkland and cash proffers, concessions by the applicant include a conservation easement that will keep this area safe from any additional development, even if future Boards of Supervisors update the Comprehensive Plan or zoning regulations. These proffers also ensure that public sewer cannot be extended to the west or south of the property, relieving future development pressure and creating a permanent backstop to future high density development there. 

I remain steadfast in my commitment to truly protecting our rural area and open spaces. This requires a more holistic approach than we have seen from previous Boards. Transfer of Development Rights (TDR), Purchase of Development Rights (PDR), rural business incentives, a defined open space plan and conservation easements should all be part of our toolbox. These are proven methods for preservation: Our very own Lake Ridge Golf & Marina exists only because a group of forward-thinking residents negotiated what was essentially an 11th hour TDR to preserve 74 acres along the reservoir. 

It is time to move past exclusionary zoning that carves our rural areas into 10-acre estates in the name of “conservation.” This current counterintuitive policy undermines the preservation of open space and the agrarian lifestyle that the architects of the Rural Crescent sought to protect.

The Preserve at Long Branch does not spell the end of the Rural Crescent. Instead, my hope is that it marks the start of a more honest, more equitable, dialogue about the conservation of open space and rural economies. I welcome those discussions, and the public good they can bring.