Biscuit Run May Become a State Park

Biscuit Run may become a state park, Brian Wheeler writes in the Daily Progress / Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Hunter Craig paid $46M for the 1,200 acre property in 2005, which he intended to develop as “Fox Ridge” (somewhere, I know, there’s a software program that just spits out random names for “upscale” housing developments). He’d planned on somewhere between 900 and 5,000 houses. The Planning Commission unanimously opposed it, but the Board of Supervisors OKd it anyway, allowing 3,100 houses, despite the $222M that you and I will have to pay in tax dollars to subsidize it. The project was put on hold in January, an unsurprising move in the face of a total collapse of the U.S. real estate market.

Presumably seeking the least financially harmful way to dispose of this property (because, really, where is the demand for 3,100 new houses?), Craig is talking with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation about donating the whole affair to the state to join the network of 35 state parks. With the land assessed at $44M, presumably that could afford Craig a unique financial opportunity to write down those losses; a governor eager to increase protected land before his term expires in a month’s time may be able to offer some state tax incentives. Albemarle County isn’t thrilled at the prospect of losing the $325k in annual property taxes that Craig pays on the land now, which would be the effect of moving it into state ownership, but since the project is a significant net financial loss for the county, Biscuit Run as a park would seem to be a good outcome. The only other snag is that chunk of land is in the growth area, which doesn’t make sense as a location for a park. But that’s the land that Craig owns, that’s the only offer on the table, and it’s not clear that Albemarle County has any say in the matter, anyhow.

32 thoughts on “Biscuit Run May Become a State Park”

  1. What great news! Know that some have expressed concern that it is in a “growth area.” But zoning ordinances can be changed. Maybe the same outcome will occur with some other land slated for a huge development-ends up getting preserved as open space.
    Am reminded of a joke I heard from a friend some years ago. I told him of seeing an EarthFirst bumpersticker that said “Developers go build in Hell.”
    He said “Know what Hell is to a developer? Everything is zoned open space.”

  2. On WINA this morning, Jane Foy suggested that we put the YMCA there (as opposed to paving over even more of McIntire Park.


  3. This solves a whole lot of issues. Water supply issue? Not anymore, since we’d have just just eliminated 3,100 houses in one fell stroke.

    As for tax revenue, tourism that this would bring is the best kind of tax revenue that you can possibly have. Tourists come, spend their money, then leave. That means no new sewers, water, schools, etc. It’s the perfect kind of growth, the one that allows you to grow economically instead of geographically.

    It’s not too late though for the BOS to kill this. If the DEQ hears a less than optomistic response from the locality then they may say “Thanks, but no thanks”. I think citizens should voice their overwhelming support of this to their representatives right now to make sure that it really happens.

    …and if it does, forget McIntire. Regardless of his motives, Hunter Craig will become the most important benefactor that this city has ever seen.

  4. If it is going to be donated to the state then I would much prefer to see it get handed to DGIF as a wildlife management area rather than to DCR for a park. In both cases the public would have access to the land, but as a WMA the emphasis would be on protecting habitat for wildlife. Instead of the ‘here are some trees’ conservation approach of DCR, DGIF does things like maintaining open meadows that provide habitat for songbirds, etc.

    More importantly, state parks are always subject to budget cuts and changing political winds in Richmond because they are funded through the general fund. Whereas WMAs are funded through DGIF, which is 100% from the sales of boating, fishing and hunting licenses. DGIF properties and programs do not get cut or messed with by the legislature in the budget process because it is all outside of the rest of the budget. Long term, access to and maintenance of the property would be better guaranteed by DGIF than by DCR.

    As of this afternoon, DCR is telling DGIF that this is a done deal (I’ve been going back and forth with them all day on it) and now they are just waiting for the deed.

    Dirt Worshipper,

    No, this is not up to DEQ. DEQ was just doing an assessment of the plans. It is DCR and maybe the Secretary of Natural Resources that makes the decision as to whether to accept the offer.

    would rather see this become public land rather than a housing development, but the idea of this producing meaningful tourist revenue sounds unlikely. Maybe the closest gas station will sell a few more sandwiches on the first warm weekend of spring, but that is about it for economic benefits. There are no special features on that property that will bring people from more than 15 or 20 miles away. Nobody is going to be getting a hotel room to spend the day at Biscuit Run State Park. Not that this should figure into the decision at all.

    Hawkins Dale,

    YMCAs do not get built in Virginia’s state parks. Nor do soccer fields, generally. You get nature trails, campsites, fishing and hunting. A YMCA is not remotely part of the mission of DCR or of land designated as a state park.

  5. Jack:

    Thanks, that’s very interesting.

    Would you mind defining your acronyms for us general citizens?

    DGIF: Department of Game and Inland Fisheries?
    DCR: ?
    DEQ: ?

  6. I Googled the acronyms — quick and easy.

    DCR = dept of conservation and recreation.
    deq = dept of environmental quality.

  7. Dirt Worshipper,
    If people continue to move here, removing development from this property near a major highway will not cause there to be less homes – it will just cause those people to move to developments elsewhere, probably further out from the city.

    Biscuit Run is near another major existing development, near the city, near the highway. Far less intrusive development wise than building out in Free Union.

  8. Jack, thanks for clarifying the DEQ’s role in this. From the article, it seems that they were the ones appointed with gathering local input, but what you say makes more sense.

    Many of the folks I’ve spoken to so far would not be keen on a Wildlife Managegment Area since it would give free reign to hunters. I’ve no problem with hunters per se, and we let them use our propery; however, the worst of the lot tend to them all look bad. Many of the WMA’s I frequent are littered with beer cans, decapitated deer carcases, and overrun by ATV’s which tend not to stay on designated trails. They do have greater access than some parks, and they allow for more activities; however, I think the hunters would pretty much make the area unusable for non-hunters for a good part of the year.

  9. yes, for the state park. I live in this area and I am definitely more excited about a park rather than a development. I was afraid our area would turn into another 29north or pantops.

  10. fdr, is it as simple as “if we don’t put 3100 homes here, we’ll see them in Free Union”? that’s a serious question. aren’t the rural parts of the county rural areas where development is inhibited? and aren’t there some other reasons why someone who might have been tempted to buy a house in a newly built Biscuit Run would not buy a house in a development out in Free Union?

  11. FDR, I’m not “anti-growth”. If you talk to real estate agents they’ll tell you they’ve got a problem because there is too much supply on the market right now. In other words, there isn’t the demand out there for a Biscuit Run and thus that additional growth area isn’t really needed. If that demand presents itself in the future, and our current supply thins out then I think a different set of conversations should occur including:

    1) Should we increase the growth area? One reason not to increase the growth area could be dependant on the kind of demand. We should want to provide housing for people that work here, but housing all the retiring boomers from NOVA is a really bad idea for all kinds of reasons.

    2) If we are to increase the growth area, then HOW should we do it? I’d argue that it was done poorly before, because essentially they created growth areas without doing enough to limit growth in the rural areas. Something like TDR might be a better way of creating growth areas because it actually results in rural protection. It also means there isn’t an arbitrary windfall to the new growth area landowners, nor a penalty to the rural folks.

  12. Dirt Worshiper,

    Most state parks allow hunting. Its not a question of hunting versus no hunting. Hunting will probably be happening there in either case. Its more a question of how the management and upkeep would be funded.

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time at the Hardware River, James River and Powhatan WMAs and rarely seen litter there. There are a few corners of the Hardware River WMA with some litter, but it all looked decades old and might well have washed up during a flood at some point and remained there ever since. I have never once seen an ATV on a WMA in Virgina. Most hunters despise people who tool around on ATVs on public land during hunting season, because it scares off all the wildlife.

  13. I believe this is just a stunt by the developer and I predict he’ll be back telling the county he can’t afford the proffers already agreed to and if they could just lower them he can go ahead with his development. He’ll let others cry about what a loss it would be if the development isn’t built and if the county doesn’t agree to lower proffers he’ll blame them for being anti business and prolonging the recession.
    Just wait.

  14. Bad News,

    That would be pretty damned evil, considering how much effort and expense the state has incurred in preparing to take the land on. And ain’t nothing gonna change the fact that there is no market right now for those houses.

    The good news about this DGIF thing is that there is a back-up plan if DCR decides to back out. Which could happen, since they have to assume that they are looking at more budget cuts next session. Another park to manage would suck resources away from other facilities at a time when there is less and less to go around. Wheras DGIF is totally self-funded out of sales of boating, hunting and fishing licenses. Fishing license sales have risen during the recession. DGIF is in better financial shape to take over management of this land than DCR is.

  15. If people continue to move here, removing development from this property near a major highway will not cause there to be less homes – it will just cause those people to move to developments elsewhere, probably further out from the city.

    It has to be acknowledged that there’s a causal relationship that’s not that simple. If we build 3,500 houses, then that will create an excess of supply that will redirect housing demand to the area. But if we build no houses, demand will continue to exist, but the supply of houses will not be nearly as large, and so the number of people moving here will be less. There are two sides of the supply and demand equation.

  16. Well the houses would’ve been good for my job. But since I’m also in southern Albermarle traffic wise I’d be happy to see it as a State Park.

  17. Bob, how about building some cabins in the State Park and picnic shelters ? I think there are still lots of places to build houses in Albemarle county, and not in the rural area, which should be protected…just that there’s no one to fill any more houses and wouldn’t be for quite awhile, but we do need nurses.

  18. Though the park would be wonderful addition for local residents and perhaps put a short, but temporary, brake on Albemarle’s growth-happy ways, Bad News’ assessment of this as a “stunt” is wise.

    How does H. Craig plan on getting his investment back (the million dollar question that is missing from the article)? Why should we not assume that his already-approved supply of suburban-density housing at Biscuit Run could be far more marketable than triple rates of density 12 miles from town.

    One could make the argument that, at times, Hunter Craig has demonstrated an uncanny ability to put anyone from local environment leaders to county supervisors in his hip pocket. Success at the negotiating table requires an understanding of how those across the table feel, what they value/want for themselves, how they want to be perceived by their “group”, and what their personal ambitions are.

    For a planning department to be increasingly relevant, achieve their career ambitions, and grow in influence, they must rely many things, one of which is a supply of open undeveloped land to plan. Craig anticipated their fierce response to turn this land over.

    I would rather see Biscuit Run become a park, even though it probably won’t help me with growth concerns in Crozet. Waldo’s assessment of growth rates and supply and demand is common sense. We are moving too fast, and it matters little to me whether unquestioned religious passion of new urbanists or the publicly-subsidized greed of ‘conservative’ real-estate speculation is at fault.

    The last ten years been an orgy of urbanist and suburban rezonings. These have occurred in a more reckless, haphazard fashion than both sides of the political aisle would admit. Some will warn that slowing down will affect “standards of living”, but standards of living are about what you value.

    Removal of land from growth areas will save all local taxpayers money, increase value for existing homeowners, and increase standards of living — not lower them. And in my book, creating and fiercely protecting public parkland is about standards of living. To me, a walk in the park (and Ragged Mountain/McCtr Prk is included) is a ‘standard of living’ that exceeds a walk on a new urbanist sidewalk.

    But the old adage, if it is “too good to be true” makes me cautious that this article was about political positioning between two camps who want to till the land with a new development and have taxpayers fund more of the same, not create a park. I hope I am wrong, and some of the optimistic assessments will come to fruition.

    Sleepy makes for sloppy writing. Tis time to turn in.

  19. some powerful irony afoot. County doesn’t want growth area turned into a park. But when it’s the other way around, a fire-station or an old folks home in master-planned “green space” they say “yes please, go right ahead.”

  20. Crozet Resident, I hear your sentiments and I agree with most of them; however I would take issue with placing the blame on New Urbanists. You could count me in as one of the “true believers”, but I’m appalled at how the neighborhood model has played out and how poorly it lives up to New Urbanist standards. I think what we have here in Charlottesville is Faux Urbanism.

    Here’s the deal. First of all, I’d argue that truw new urbanism shouldn’t take place in the suburbs or on a property that was recently a field or forest. Ideally it should be about redevelopment in a wise manner so that we don’t have to develop new greenspace. Secondly, a major principle of New Urbanism is integration of both public space and greenspace into developments. Charlottesville developments, for the most part, have been all urban with very little real greenspace. When neighboorhood do have greenspace, it is because they destroyed a very large area of greenspace and then preserved a small square of it.

    As I say above, I think the way to reach walkable communities is a series of steps that convert existing properties into mixed use. Shopping centers would be the easiest to convert because they have a vast sea of parking that’s rather unnecessary. Drop in a parking garage (or better yet, underground parking) then you’ve got plenty of room to put in homes or apartments and still have leftover space for greenspace and true public space.

    The other side of this is that we should be taking urban area with no greenspace and creating it (much like was done at The Dell). Stream daylighting projects, urban gardens, green roofs, street tree, rain gardens… these are all things that we should be doing if we believe in principles of New Urbanism. Biscuit Run, although an improvement in design from other neighborhoods, would have been a detruction of 1200 acres of greenspace that’s accessible to the public and that would make the growth area more livable. That’s contrary to principles of New Urbanism and a park is much more in line with what we should be doing if we care about things like walkable communities and sustainability.

  21. I think this is a great location for a State Park. If you hike the property it’s wilderness, with huge,beautiful trees and close to transportation. How disingenuous for County Supervisors, always trying to preserve land near where they live, to not want a similar experience to be available to less well to do city residents, who would have a wonderful park literally at their backdoor.

  22. That’s a hell of tax writeoff for Mr Craig. I doubt it is just a play to reduce proffers. If the state accepts the n the deal will be closed. I do think that this allows some interesting changes to the growth area. Why not allow that 800 acre lost from the growth area to be put somewhere else? We will still have 95% of the land preserved.

  23. I think local realtors would say that romoving a big chunk out of the growth area fixes some economic problems for them right now. For that reason, it simply doesn’t make sense to replace the area lost to the growth area, since it will make all the other remaining growth area projects far more viable and reduce uncertainty in the market.

    When the housing market recovers then I think a cautious approach should be taken in regards to a reexpansion of the growth area and exactly how that happens. While there were national market effects way beyond our control, there’s no doubt to me that local planning policies contributied to local over exuberance and the collapse of local projects. We need better market-based strategies, where we can incentivise the approaches we want without artificially creating winners and losers. The entire apporach of the county needed a serious reexamination, and maybe this donation will force that discussion.

  24. I’m hugely uninformed as to the whole county planning/development area thing. I was just online looking at plans for new phases of development in the Pantops area, specifically the Cascadia/Fontana stuff, and it seems like there’s already so much planned to go there. It puts the “loss” of 3100 residential units at Biscuit Run (“loss” is a funny word to describe something that was just a possibility/plan to begin with) in a different light. “Where will all those people wanting new construction go without Biscuit Run?” some are asking. Well, maybe to Cascadia, for starters?

    One of the questions I have has to do with by-right development in areas outside of the designated growth areas. Does that mean that Joe Rural with acres and acres of farmland out by Free Union can simply and easily sell his property to a developer and whammo, we’ve got 3100 new houses out in the beautiful countryside?

  25. If it’s by right, then yes. It’d be pretty unlikely though that they’d have that many (hypothetical) development rights. There was a downzoning that reduced rural development rights, and that combined with ordinances of critical slope and stream buffers makes it so development isn’t going to be a dense in the county. To get around this, developers just sell somwhat larger parcels with McMansions on them. When they do that, it’s relatively unregulated. Since it’s by right there is now way for the county to require them to mitigate impacts to local infrastructure or to build in a sustainable way.

  26. What a blessing and a great christmas for the county. This will improve the county land values, preserve the environment and provide park service to an often neglected southern county area. The county will save money by not having to build the infrastructure needed to serve what would have been a small city. The rezoning should have never happened, the supervisors should be ashamed. Thanks to Hunter Craig for this generous offer and great idea to improve the county. This will help the counties and the states goals of preserving green space :o)

  27. My understanding is that it’s pretty much a done deal. The biggest question now is how? For example, will we just ened up with a Wildlife Management Area used by hunters, or will we have a legitimate state park with facilities that will attract people from other parts of the state?

    Another important question is how will developers and business interests spin this story? One narrative that the Free Enterprise folks are already pushing is that the county cause the failure of Biscuit Run by requiring so much in proffers and design requirements. They’re already arguing that we should expand the growth area to compenstate for the loss of development rights in the growth area. With the status quo on the BOS it may be hard to stop that unless there is significant public opposition.

    Personally, I think that to some degree this shows some of the policies of the county were successful (albeit perhaps not it the way they intended). If they hadn’t had policies that were as restrictive, then we’d have ended up with far more half finished subdivisions, and empty neighborhoods cleared of greenspace for no good reason. The market has now vindicated the counties conservative approach.

  28. The Dp has a story on Craig’s real motives for this nongift. For everyone who thought this was a Paul Goodloe McIntire move you’d best think again or go on believing in the tooth fairy, love at first sight, and Santa Claus.

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