February 7, 2023
Orange County Planning Commission:
Donald Brooks, Chair
J. Jason Capelle, Vice Chair
J. Bryan Nicol
George Yancey Adam Bryington
Re: REZ 22-03, Wilderness Crossing
Dear Members of the Planning Commission:
We are writing on behalf of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition1The Wilderness Battlefield Coalition is composed of local, regional, and national organizations dedicated to protecting the unique cultural and natural resources associated with the historic Wilderness Battlefield in Orange County, Virginia. The coalition includes the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, Germanna Foundation, Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, Journey Through Hallowed Ground, Piedmont Environmental Council, Preservation Virginia, American Battlefield Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. and of our thousands of members across Virginia and Orange County. In advance of your third work session with the Wilderness Crossing applicant, we urge you to address the following questions:
Impacts to Wilderness Battlefield and other cultural and historic resources.
The Wilderness Crossing property sits at the gateway to the historic and scenic Wilderness Battlefield. Wilderness Battlefield is a preservation priority “Class A” battlefield, which means it is among the Congressional Civil War Sites Advisory Commission’s highest priorities.2Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields (1993), http://npshistory.com/publications/battlefield/cwsac/report.pdf. A portion of the Wilderness Crossing property lies within the historic limits of the Wilderness Battlefield. In addition, the National Park Service (NPS)-maintained trails and open space at Wilderness Battlefield is a valuable and well-used recreational amenity. NPS estimates that during the past 10 years, Wilderness Battlefield has seen an average of 481,000 visitors annually.3Raw data provided by National Park Service staff, September 2022.
The suggested realignment of Rte. 20 through NPS land and several parcels owned by the applicant so that it intersects with Rte. 3 at the main entrance to Wilderness Crossing, would require a large land disturbance to the historic battlefield and construction of approximately one mile of new road through lands identified by Congress as worthy of perpetual protection. Further, because of the high ridge southwest of Route 3, such a realignment would require a 22’ bridge (approaching a span of 1,000′ lineal feet in length) that was estimated to cost $9.3 to $15.5 million in 2012 dollars. The Coalition is vehemently opposed to such a realignment. Furthermore, other than a recently-added (and without input from the congregation) proffer to “buffer around” the historic Pilgrim Baptist Church (unclear if this would include the adjacent cemetery), the applicant has made no proffers designed to mitigate impacts to cultural or historic resources.
What is the County’s plan to ensure that impacts to Wilderness Battlefield and other cultural and historic resources are avoided, minimized, or mitigated?
The two-year collaborative planning process that produced the Wilderness Gateway Study.
The Coalition led and paid for a nearly two-year collaborative planning process, with active participation from the Board of Supervisors and the applicant, to produce Part I & II of the Wilderness Gateway Study.4 https://wildernessgateway.wordpress.com/about/
Numerous points of consensus were achieved and were representative of a concerted effort in public and private partnership, responsive to and with concessions made by all parties interested in both preservation and development, with strong support by the Board of Supervisors. The current Wilderness Crossing application is not consistent with the Consensus Items for a “Preferred Wilderness Gateway Plan” (“Gateway Plan”)5 established by the study. For example:
- Consensus Item – Traditional Mixed Use Village: The Gateway Plan5“Preferred Wilderness Gateway Plan,” Wilderness Battlefield Gateway Study Phase II: Finding Common Ground and a Preferred Development Plan, page 4 (November 2012), https://wildernessgateway.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/phase-ii-report.pdf. and the economic research conducted as a part of the 2012 study confirmed no more than 205,000 s.f. of retail could be supported in the development over the next 20 years.
What data has confirmed the current application’s call for 436,465 s.f. of retail (plus 125,000 s.f. of restaurants and 125,000 s.f. of service-related businesses)?
- Consensus Item – Multi Family & Single-Family Village Residential: The Gateway Plan and the economic research conducted as a part of the 2012 study confirmed no more than than 1,500 units could be absorbed by the local market over the next 20 years. The applicant’s proffer statement only contemplates the first ten years.
What data has confirmed the current application’s call for 2,000+ units in the first ten years? What is the proposed phasing of residential development beyond year ten?
- Consensus Item – Business Campus: The vision for a business campus to support job creation in the Gateway Plan was projected to respond to expanding markets in “higher education, health services, business and financial services, and agri-businesses.” The Gateway Plan never recommended light industrial as an acceptable land use.
Why is light industrial proposed as a part of the current application? Why is light industrial prescribed for an acreage ten-times (10X) the scale as was proposed by the Gateway Plan?
Consensus Item – Corridor Overlay District: One of the accomplishments of the Gateway Study was its recommendation for and the proceeding establishment of an overlay district: now the Germanna Wilderness Area Plan (“GWAP”) for the Rte. 3 Corridor. To date, the GWAP and the application do not resemble an important consensus point of the Gateway Plan.
Why does neither the application nor the GWAP implement the buffer and historic corridor overlay recommended for the Rte. 3 Corridor?
Finally, in the Fall of 2021, and again in the Spring of 2022, the Coalition requested a meeting with County Supervisors about Wilderness Crossing’s significant direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts on the Wilderness Battlefield. We have not been granted a meeting.
Why have we not been granted a meeting with the County to discuss this application’s alignment with the Consensus Items of the Gateway Plan?
Contamination related to historic mines and the Voluntary Remediation Program.
We acknowledge the developer’s stated willingness to enter the Voluntary Remediation Program (VRP), but we believe that stronger written commitments, all within the VRP framework, are required to ensure that the public health, safety, and welfare are protected.
What assurance does the County have that the Department of Environmental Quality will accept the property into the VRP?
What assurance is there that the developer will successfully complete the VRP?
What protects the County from liability or its residents from harm if land for park(s), a school, or reservoirs is accepted by the County before VRP enrollment, completion, and certification?
Data centers or other industrial uses.
Similar to what has recently occurred in Warrenton, Prince William, and Culpeper, Orange County staff and officials have signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and held confidential talks with data center developers. Consequently, the public knows no details about what is being discussed. Nevertheless, we do know that data centers bring a number of issues that must be addressed. For example:
Depending on the type of cooling system used, data centers can be very noisy and/or use an enormous amount of water.6 https://www.npca.org/resources/3434-data-centers We already have serious concerns about the potential residential demand on the Rapidan River. A heavy industrial use could exponentially increase that demand.
Any data center constructed on the Wilderness Crossing property would require the construction of at least 1.5 miles of new transmission lines to connect to an existing 500 kv or 115 kv line. Depending on the route selected, the new transmission line would either cross over Lake of the Woods or over Wilderness Battlefield.
Who is the prospect interested in data center development? What is “Project Tricycle” and why the secretive name?
Who has signed NDAs with this prospect and how does that impact what the County is able to share with the public?
If a data center(s) is approved, what related transmission lines and substations would be necessary?
Has the County discussed water usage with the prospect and/or planned to ensure that there will be enough water for current and future residents? Has the County discussed how noise impacts to neighbors would be prevented?
Can the Wilderness Crossing proposal still be presented as a mixed-use project, considering the potential for over 700 acres of by-right data center or distribution center development? Does the County consider these uses compatible with residential?
Is there enough water?
At the January 19th work session, the applicant stated that Rapidan Service Authority (RSA) has not communicated any limitation relative to the supply of water needed to serve the proposed development. However, we believe there is a critical distinction that needs to be made clear to the public and to the Board of Supervisors. The issue is not RSA’s capacity to treat raw water withdrawn from the river for distribution and wastewater returned to the river. The issue is the adequacy of the water supply. Wilderness Crossing, with potentially thousands of new homes plus industrial users, would depend solely on the Rapidan River for water; for both immediate withdrawals and to fill any future reservoirs.
Previous water supply plans and studies have noted serious concerns about water availability in the County in light of future, anticipated development along the Rte. 3 corridor, and concluded that the County needs to take significant steps to address this issue.7See, Draper Aden Associates, Technical Memorandum, Water and Wastewater Master Plan for the Germanna Wilderness Area (November 2018), https://orangecountyva.gov/DocumentCenter/View/2636/GWAP-Water-and-Wastewater-Master-Plan?bidId=. See also, Wiley/Wilson, Orange County Water Supply Plan (July 2007m revised April 2009), https://www.orangecountyva.gov/DocumentCenter/View/512/Draft-Water-Supply-Plan-090630?bidId= Simply directing RSA to apply for upgraded withdrawal / return permits and building additional treatment capacity does not address a sustainable supply of water. Further, water supply from the sole-source of the Rapidan could easily be outstripped by water availability if the county encounters drought conditions as were experienced in 1998-2002.
What is the County doing to ensure enough water for current and future residents, and how will the County work with neighboring jurisdictions to protect the regional water supply, pursuant to regulations going into effect in 2023?8 https://www.deq.virginia.gov/water/water-quantity/water-supply-planning/hb542-regulatory-action
We appreciate the Planning Commission’s continued, careful attention to the myriad issues this, the largest rezoning request in County history, has raised. The Coalition expects, and the public deserves, a robust process that engages residents and ensures access to all the pertinent information required to make an informed decision that protects public health, safety, and welfare, as well as the historic, cultural, and environmental resources that makes Orange County a special place.
- 1The Wilderness Battlefield Coalition is composed of local, regional, and national organizations dedicated to protecting the unique cultural and natural resources associated with the historic Wilderness Battlefield in Orange County, Virginia. The coalition includes the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, Germanna Foundation, Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, Journey Through Hallowed Ground, Piedmont Environmental Council, Preservation Virginia, American Battlefield Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.
- 2Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields (1993), http://npshistory.com/publications/battlefield/cwsac/report.pdf.
- 3Raw data provided by National Park Service staff, September 2022.
- 5“Preferred Wilderness Gateway Plan,” Wilderness Battlefield Gateway Study Phase II: Finding Common Ground and a Preferred Development Plan, page 4 (November 2012), https://wildernessgateway.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/phase-ii-report.pdf.
- 7See, Draper Aden Associates, Technical Memorandum, Water and Wastewater Master Plan for the Germanna Wilderness Area (November 2018), https://orangecountyva.gov/DocumentCenter/View/2636/GWAP-Water-and-Wastewater-Master-Plan?bidId=. See also, Wiley/Wilson, Orange County Water Supply Plan (July 2007m revised April 2009), https://www.orangecountyva.gov/DocumentCenter/View/512/Draft-Water-Supply-Plan-090630?bidId=