State "not really pushing" to plan Biscuit Run park

 How long does it take to construct a state park? Look no further than Middle Peninsula State Park in Gloucester County. The 438-acre parkland was purchased in 2005 by the Commonwealth of Virginia, with money from a $119 million bond created in 2002 for land conservation and parkland acquisition. Nearly five years later, and the master planning process for Middle Peninsula is just getting underway.

At present, seeing a park in Biscuit Run feels like looking for a sculpture in a piece of stone. The Department of Conservation and Recreation says it may be years before a master plan is completed.

Or, look a little bit further. 

Somewhere past Middle Peninsula State Park, you’ll spot Biscuit Run—the 1,200 acres purchased by developer Hunter Craig and Forest Lodge, LLC for $46.2 million in 2005, and sold to the Commonwealth of Virginia for $9.8 million and undisclosed tax credit at the end of 2009. According to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, it could take as long as two-and-a-half years before the master planning for Biscuit Run State Park is completed.

“It may be a matter of months, it may be a year, it may be more until we start the Biscuit Run master planning process,” says Gary Waugh, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (VDCR). 

That’s “start the planning process.” Waugh says that the planning process is very public and, in the case of a park like Biscuit Run, would involve an advisory committee likely composed of city and county officials, members of the Chamber of Commerce, adjacent landowners, and state departments of forestry and game. Waugh says that, “from the time you start talking about setting up the advisory committee to the time the director signs off on a completed master plan, [it] is about usually a 15- to 18-month window” before development may start.

In February, while the General Assembly hacked away at a budget, Governor Bob McDonnell shared recommendations for a reduction of $2.1 billion in spending—including the closure of five state parks. The park closures were not included in the budget bill passed by the General Assembly, and Waugh says that they are unlikely to be included in a final budget.

Nonetheless, money to develop new parks like Biscuit Run will be “hard to come by,” says Waugh.

“Which is one of the reasons, in addition to the existing workload, that we’re not really pushing to have a Biscuit Run master plan started tomorrow,” says Waugh. “Because the money’s just not there. Even if we got the master plan in place, it doesn’t look like the money would be there to develop it.”

Elizabeth Breeden, with her late husband, David, sold the Biscuit Run land to Forest Lodge, LLC in 2005; her home sits on 36 acres in what she refers to as the “doughnut hole” of the state’s land.

“With this gift, as in every other department, a budget stretched thin is asked to take on another project,” says Breeden.

Since the Commonwealth purchased the land from Forest Lodge, Breeden says that people who speak with her “are totally gleeful that the land was saved from development.” She thinks differently: The Biscuit Run development, zoned for as many as 3,100 lots, is close to the center of Charlottesville, and proffers for the project included $5.5 million for bicycle lanes and widening of Route 20, among many others.

“To be genuinely green,” says Breeden, “you bring people closer to town.”

She takes a reporter on a 40-minute walk through the future state park, two of her dogs running down a hill to splash in the body of water Biscuit Run takes its name from. Breeden shares her ideas for the park—maybe dam up Biscuit Run to create a water attraction, ranked in a 2006 Virginia Outdoors survey as the most needed recreation opportunity in the state—and for her own land. Breeden’s 36 acres were rezoned as “Neighborhood Model” along with the Biscuit Run lots, and she says that she will “absolutely” look to develop her lot when the time is right.

“To me, that’s my children’s inheritance,” she adds.

Ultimately, Breeden calls the land’s future as a state park rather than a development a “missed opportunity.”

“In the long view,” she says, “I think development here was a good opportunity to stay condensed.”

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