For the third time in a year, Clara Belle Wheeler has been caught unawares by the county, and she is livid. On Monday, March 17, the Board of Supervisors voted to move Wheeler’s 77 acres from the designated “growth” area to the “rural area,” as part of the Pantops Master Plan, despite her wishes that it remain as is. Wheeler did not learn of it until two days later when she was alerted by a friend who heard about it on WINA’s AM radio station.
Clara Belle Wheeler’s property will move to the rural area and the Vermillions’ will stay there.
“I was thunderstruck,” Wheeler says.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” says Ann Mallek. In November, Mallek replaced David Wyant on the Board. “I frankly thought she was aware.”
Pantops landowners ask for move
County considers overruling landowner
The change has been in motion since May 2006, when Supervisor Ken Boyd brought forward the idea that her historic parcel off of Stony Point Road/Route 20 could offset bringing 30 acres of Wendell Wood’s into the growth area.
“It’s an absolute usurping of someone’s property rights without permission or authorization for absolutely no reason,” Wheeler says.
“She was very articulate in her expression of an interest in her property,” says Supervisor Sally Thomas, the only supervisor to vote against the May 2006 resolution that included Wheeler’s.
Both Mallek and Thomas felt that land bordering the Rivanna River should be protected from development. Also, Wheeler’s land is the site of the Buena Vista, a glorious mansion built during the Civil War. George Rogers Clark was born just yards away in a restored cabin that is now in a cow pasture.
“This is an area where they are right on both sides and all sides,” Mallek notes. Wheeler is perturbed that her land was dragged into the circumstances involving special consideration by the Board for developer Wendell Wood’s selling land to the U.S. military for the National Ground Intelligence Center expansion. But at the same time, Wheeler had initiated the discussion of conserving her land in the first place.
The supervisors also opted not to honor another landowner’s request to move land from rural to growth along Route 20. In September, John C. and Judith Vermillion asked for the change to 25 acres just down Route 20 from Wheeler’s. “It has two strikes against it,” says Thomas, explaining the rationale behind the Board’s denial. “It is alongside a creek, and it’s historic property.” The Vermillions’ patch also sits on a knoll and so has critical slopes.
None of that, however, matters to Wheeler. “It’s beyond the pale to do something clearly against the owner’s wishes,” she says, in reference to her own land. Of the supes, only Boyd agreed with her.
Some of the supes—most notably Dennis Rooker—have argued that changing the comprehensive plan designation does not affect a property owner’s rights. “If a designation changes for a property, it does not change its zoning,” he has stated. “It’s a change in how the property fits into the community’s long-term plan.”
Still, it seems undeniable that moving land out of the development area would affect its value. “Land is usually worth what it can produce,” says Ivo Romenesko of The Appraisal Group in an e-mail. “Removing a parcel from sewer and water availability, removing the prospect of some future land utilization, limiting prospective density—it would be an amazing thing if land value were not affected.”
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