Friday, Nov 12, 2010

Significant Changes Proposed For PWC Environment Chapter

Pete Dolan

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) is scheduled to review changes that would overhaul the Environment Chapter of the County’s Comprehensive Plan at a public hearing on December 7, 2010. The BOCS will have two versions of the draft Chapter to consider: one prepared by County Planning staff and a second recommended by the Planning Commission.

The development industry has expressed concerns with many of the proposed changes and many have urged the BOCS to defer the update and associated environmental policy decisions until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) render their final policies for the control of storm water runoff (via new total maximum daily load mandates) and the protection of streams and waterways within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Another concern being raised is the regulation of features that exceed state and federal regulatory regimes. Examples include the proposed protection of “Significant Non-RPA Streams” (i.e., streams that are not perennial and thus, not regulated under State Chesapeake Bay methodology) and “Unique Habitats of Special Concern.” The County would also require the identification of jurisdictional wetlands regulated by the Corps of Engineers and DEQ and would emphasize preservation of jurisdictional wetlands over disturbance and mitigation. The proposed text also adds minimum submission requirements for analysis, reports and maps with rezoning and special use permit requests.

State law envisions the Comprehensive Plan as a document “general in nature” that sets forth the goals for the physical development of the County. While some of the proposed text is goal-oriented, much is quite specific and calls for sweeping changes to the Zoning Ordinance and DCSM. Examples include: a) regulation of shrink/swell and marine clay soils; b) protection of “Significant Non-RPA Streams” via buffers and setbacks; c) adoption of a new Drinking Water Reservoir Protection Overlay District (setbacks and additional use restrictions); and d) adoption of a tree preservation ordinance.