"The Prince William Conservation Alliance, our local and state government officials and our neighbors are our heroes,"
Jonie Mitchell was thinking about a parking lot in Hawaii when she wrote "Big Yellow Taxi" in 1970. However, VDOT seemed to be using the song as an action plan when they decided that a historic working farm located in the Rural Crescent was the preferred location of a proposed Park and Ride Lot. Yes, really.
The Cedars Farm Is owned and operated by Carlton Heflin and his wife, Jeannie. It was purchased by Carl’s father in 1935; however, the farm dates back to the 1840s and parts of the their home were built at that time. The farm has raised a variety of products including wheat, corn and other crops, as well as pigs and cattle. Carl currently raises Angus beef cattle.
The Cedars Farm is a working farm, not a real estate investment or “hobby farm.” The cattle operation is managed in a professional and responsible manner using the best practices to protect the watershed, manage the land resources for the long term and produce a very high quality product. In addition, the Heflins maintain a large vegetable garden and even a few beehives. The garden provides food for themselves and their neighbors.
The land is located near Haymarket and is clearly in the Rural Crescent. Although they realize that the Rural Crescent designation limits some of their property rights and reduces the land’s marketability and its real estate value, they accept that because they are there for the long term. They fully expect that when they are ready to retire from farming, the Cedars Farm will pass to their children, who will continue to operate it as a working farm.
In their words, it was with shock and dismay, that they learned in early September2015 that their property had been selected as the preferred site for a Park and Ride Lot to serve I-66. By the second week of the month, VDOT had teams come to their property for soil, archaeological and wetlands evaluation. A public hearing was scheduled for October28..
Had VDOT proceeded with the plan, the farm would have been destroyed. The parking lot and road improvements would have taken a large band of land across the property, cutting it into two parts that would be unsuitable and too small to continue farm operations. Fortunately, the Heflins took immediate action to try to have VDOT remove their property from consideration as a site for the parking lot.
On September 29th, the Heflins happened to attend the Scenic Byway meeting sponsored by Prince William Conservation Alliance They told Charlie Grymes, Kim Hosen and Elena Schlossberg, Board members of PWCA, what transpired with VDOT They were astounded Charlie, Kim and Elena went into action right away, working tirelessly to get the word out and gather the troops in protest. Neighbors in Dominion Valley, Rose Hill, and Thunder Oaks alerted their neighbors to contact their government officials and VDOT to protest this egregious plan.
The groundswell of support was amazing and caused Pete Candland, Gainesville District Supervisor and Corey Stewart, Chairman, Prince William Board of County Supervisors to call a meeting on Friday, October 23, with three VDOT representatives, the Heflins and their attorney, as well as Kim Hosen and several members of county staff. The goal was to ask VDOT, to remove the Heflin property from all VDOT plans.
Supervisor Candland stated the Supervisors would assist in locating a property in a commercial district for the Park and Ride Lot.. Chairman Stewart and Supervisor Candland called a special meeting in order approve a resolution to officially request VDOT remove the Heflin farm from the Transform 66 VDOT plans In response, VDOT amended the plan that the Commonwealth Transportation Board would consider on October 27 and the Heflin farm was removed from the plan.
The storm was overtaken by the concern and actions of the western Prince William County community. In Jeannie's word's "The Prince William Conservation Alliance, our local and state government officials and our neighbors are our heroes, and the heroes of the future of the Rural Crescent."
There are lessons learned. Certainly this is an example of how a prompt action campaign by citizens and like minded organizations can change the plans of the bureaucracy. But when asked if she thought this issue was settled, Jeannie said, “I am concerned about this. VDOT, they’re very persistent. So, we will be watching. We will not be naive anymore. I’ll be sure to keep my eye on that I-66 project.” Seems like a wise decision.
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For the a complete discussion of the Rural Crescent visit the PWCA information pages.
For a more detailed history of this story visit: http://www.pwconserve.org/landuse/i66/main.html