This is a real disappointment. Back in April we hoped that the Prince William Park Authority and Bull Run Mountain Conservancy could reach an amicable agreement with respect to the Silver Lake parcel, apparently those discussions have failed.

The following is an email from the Prince William Conservation Alliance:

Silver Lake: Opportunities Lost

October 21 2008 — The Bull Run Mountain Conservancy (BRMC) today announced the withdrawal of their proposal to partner with Prince William County to open Silver Lake as a park for public use.

That means:

* County taxpayers will now pay all costs to develop and maintain the 233-acre Silver Lake – $1.6 million + $215,000 each year, according to the Prince William County Park Authority (PWCPA) plans;

* An additional 270 acres next to Silver Lake will NOT be opened to horse trails, hiking, and other public uses (BRMC had a commitment from an adjacent landowner to make an additional 270 acres available for public recreational use).

The Silver Lake property was donated (as a “proffer” for County approval of 420 additional houses in Dominion Valley) to Prince William citizens, through the Board of Supervisors, to provide much needed land for public recreation and open space.

The County has kept Silver Lake closed while debating who should manage it. The core issue was land ownership, with some insisting that PWCPA ownership of the entire site was non-negotiable.

The BRMC proposal required transfer – with deed restrictions that pre-determined recreational uses, guaranteed public access and prohibited any resale or transfer – of the land they would manage in order to raise the matching funds required by their $500,000 grant for Silver Lake.

Non-profit organizations like BRMC are unable to attract donations for building a visitor center or other improvements on property that is owned by a government agency. Transferring County land to non-profits is not a new concept. For example, Prince William County donated 135 acres for the Marine Corps Heritage Center.

In the most recent negotiations, the PWCPA would have received the southern portion of the property, including Silver Lake itself. The northern portion would have been transferred to BRMC, with restrictions that guaranteed public access for recreational use. The northern portion would have reverted back to the Board of Supervisors, should BRMC not honor their commitments.

However, after two years of discussion, Prince William Supervisors appear hopelessly deadlocked and, on September 17, the PWCPA Board adopted a resolution by a 6-2 vote rejecting all compromise proposals at Silver Lake.

By rejecting such a compromise, the County will lose the opportunity to develop a 500-acre park with equestrian and hiking trails. Instead, County taxpayers will have to pay 100% of the cost to open up a 233-acre Silver Lake park.

The PWCPA has been struggling to maintain existing recreation amenities, even before the coming budget cuts. In a worst case scenario, Silver Lake could be locked up tight like Dove’s Landing, with signs saying ” Public Land – Keep Out.”

The 270 acres and $1 million in private funding to develop and operate Silver Lake for public use is now lost. The property that could have been added to Silver Lake won’t be developed into townhouses; it is permanently preserved in an open space easement. However, that private land will stay private, closed to the public.

With only 9 acres of parkland/1,000 residents, Prince William is facing an uphill battle to acquire enough new parkland to meet community needs. By rejecting the BRMC partnership, county officials will not acquire new parkland to meet the standards set in the newly revised Parks & Open Space Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan.

In fact, since that plan was adopted, the county has acquired no property for public parkland…. and now has rejected 270 acres of free land.

The Prince William County Park Authority has promised to open Silver Lake to the public in less than a year, with some areas open within six months – so long as the Board of Supervisors provides additional funding.

Will the County find the additional funding needed to open and operate a park at Silver Lake? Or will we see yet another “Public Land – Keep Out” sign?

32 thoughts on “PWCA: Silver Lake – Opportunity Lost

  1. Censored bybvbl

    Alanna, what has been the county’s main objection to partnering with BRMC? In a tight budget cycle it, the partnership, seems to be a good way of acquiring additional parkland. Is it the “passive use” proposed?

    Also, do you know what’s holding up Dove’s Landing? I haven’t paid any attention to Dove’s Landing since the attempt to bring sewer into that area more than a decade ago.

  2. Mom

    It’s not so much an objection to partnering as it is objection to collusion. This whole deal was nothing but a ploy to get the land into the hands of the BRMC from the get go. It was a really transparent scheme on the part of Lord Connaughton, unfortunately one that enough people did not see through and one that left the county with yet another unrealized park, lousy school site and more houses, courtesy of Toll Brothers. Play back the meeting when the rezoning was granted and listen to the 20 minute soliloquy by Kieffer, the sole example I can recall of a third party speaking at that length prior to the opening of the public hearing. This was a rigged land grab by Connaughton from the start, designed to steer the property to the conservancy. As it stands, owership will be retained by the Park Authority and by extension, the residents of PWC, the rightful owners in my mind. That the park is unfunded years after the proffers were accepted is a matter of poor fiscal planning, and another topic entirely.

  3. Alanna

    Again, BRMC worked to get Silver Lake in its entirity proffered to the County. And thanks to Lord Connaughton for postponing the vote especially since Stirrup was ready to let Toll Brothers build on 120 acres of that parcel. Luckily citizens convinced Connaughton that the rezoning application was too sweet for the developer.

    I have to say I was very impressed with Sean Connaugton. He seemed level-headed and fair. It’s too bad he didn’t stay on the BoS.


  4. So long, suckers. Millionaire hedge fund boss thanks ‘idiot’ traders and retires at 37

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/128d399a-9c75-11dd-a42e-000077b07658.html

    So long Andrew. You saw through the illusions we were leaning on.

  5. Mom

    A view through the rose colored glasses perhaps? Truth is developing on the lake would have been fiscally difficult for Toll Brothers and fraught with PR and environmental issues. I’m sure they were glad to “cede” it to the county in exchange for the denser develpment rights they got in exchange, density with a much lower front end capital cost per unit. Don’t get me wrong, I have no sympathy for them as they were in on this as well, but it does bear noting that the county got stuck with a couple of additional “freebies” courtesy of the developer, Silver Lake and the Middle School site (located on soil that requires remediation). Not so free when you consider development, construction, staffing, maintenance, insurance, infrastructure, etc., etc., but again I digress, tis another topic entirely.

  6. See this is what KILLS me about the BOCS: it’s their way or the highway! Recall Corey Stewart’s comment to VOICE when they asked him if he would work with them on affordable housing. He simply said, “No.” He didn’t consider working with partnerships or anything of the sort. What a bunch of closed-minded bureaucrats with no concept of how to find creative solutions!

  7. –This whole deal was nothing but a ploy to get the land into the hands of the BRMC from the get go.–

    But if the BRMC goes against the plan, they legally have to turn land management over to the County. There’s no risk, especially considering right now it’s not being used for anything!

  8. Elena

    MOM,
    Exactly how was this a land grab by BRMC? They were taking on all the risk to raise the money, clean it up, develop it, and be tied to a site plan whose agreed upon uses could never be altered. The reality is that this county has NOOOOOO money, in fact, we have LESS than no money. The idea that this county spit in the eye of a private/public partnership is an utter embarrassment! Tell me, what was the largest tract of open space this county acquired within the last five years that wasn’t a ball field? How about last ten years? I don’t know about you, but quality open space is pretty hard to come by, and that the BRMC was willing to invest their time and efforsts to make a quality open space/educational/passive recreation area was a plus for EVERY citizen in this county.

    Let’s start a wager when Silver Lake will open to the public, I say five years.

  9. Alanna

    Mom,
    Real quick the lake was always proffered to the County, but Toll Brothers intended to keep around 120/130 acres with 12/13 homes built on 10 acre lots. It was only because of Connaughton’s postponement of the vote that Toll decided to give all of it to the County. This has always bothered me because many citizens asked Stirrup to get the land but HE COULDN’T. Stirrup was ready to vote on the rezoning in June ’06 without that additional land.

  10. Alanna

    But now it’s disappointing that the adjacent parcel couldn’t have been combined. I don’t think every square inch of the County has to be ‘designed’, it would have been nice to have this other parcel combined for a world class passive park. But for some reason John got his feelings hurt and he can’t seem to overcome hard feelings even when it’s for the betterment of the County. On this issue with BRMC he has lost both his conservative and environmental sense of direction.

  11. ShellyB

    You are all going to think I am a complete novice, but the thing about Silver Lake had been floating around in the periphery of my awareness for years now and all I really came to understand was that it had to do with “parks and open space,” which luckily enough for me is a self-explanatory term.

    Thanks very much for drawing me into this forum, where I am learning a great deal about all sorts of community issues that affect this county. Once you have one foot in the door, it’s amazing how an ordinary apathetic person can become an engaged and aware citizen.

    I’m not sure what I should do, but at least now I understand the issue here. For that I thank you.

    And Elena, to answer your question: my guess is that the Board won’t find the money to create a new park. If we have crowded parks, that is a shame I suppose, but it will be more of a shame when we find out we can’t even pay for our schools, firemen, or police. That’s just my guess.

  12. Moon-howler

    Is there a time line of events that happened? I know the BOCS kept passing the buck but other than that, I know nothing.

  13. Elena

    The time line is two years since Toll Brothers proffered Silver Lake and BRMC began its bid to adjoin an additional 300 acres of a doners property to create nearly 500 acres of open space and park land for county citizens at NO cost to the taxpayers. OUR county looked a gift horse in the mouth and wasted a unique opportunity to create a private/public partnership. Now this land will sit vacant, abused, and unused for several years to come I am sure. If you really want to get up to speed, visit http://www.pwca.org to learn about conservation issues. You know Shelly, in the county survey, a high priority for citizens was creating more open space and parks, passive and recreational, for PWC residents.

  14. Moon-howler

    Why not take advantage of free land?

  15. Red Dawn

    I grew up with Silver Lake ( WONDERFUL memories-camping/fireworks, etc.,) this sounds like Lake Manassas ( although- we have had private privileges to enjoy thru out the last couple of years of it being closed to the public).

    What’s up with the lakes? Is Lake Brittle still open?

  16. anon

    Here’s a link to information & background about Silver Lake…
    http://www.pwconserve.org/issues/conservation/silverlake/index.htm

  17. Lucky Duck

    As a taxpayer, it seemed like a decent proposal, but I must admit, I have not read all of the intricate details. I will say however, that anything involving or supported by Ms. Hosen always gets a double look over from me.

    I remember the McDowell farm incident and her involvement in that land “deal” and then Chairman Connaughton’s concerns as to her actions. And up above in this thread, Chairman Connaughton was praised for his actions in this area and I too, respected his opinion. I am not completely comfortable with the connection between Ms. Hosen’s two hats – the County Planning commission and the Prince William Conservation Alliance – and anything with her organization’s (she is the Executive Director)support should draw increased review for the taxpayer’s sake.

  18. Mom

    Elena,

    Please don’t play me for a fool, the BOCS does enough of that. BRMC’s involvement predates their public offer to take on the parcel and tie it to the privately held adjoining parcel. There were numerous attempts at back room deals between variety of players, some publicized, some not, and many diametrically opposed to one another.

    Is the handling of this proffer (and the acquisition of park space in general) a travesty, absolutely, but how much of a travesty one outcome or the another would be considered depends on whose ox was ultimately gored and more importantly who benefitted.

    As I noted earlier, this was a complicated long=term, multi-part transaction that ultimately had more to with development rights than the public interest in a park so lets not confuse the issues. The bottom line is that the county was proffered park land and that proffer has been satisfied.

    How that parkland is developed and utilized is an entirely different matter and one much broader than merely the BRMC offer as it goes to the heart of the county’s (mis)management of its funds and resources. Again, consider the “freebies” acquired by the county as a result of proffers and what the true hidden costs of those freebies are. There is much more to this matter than merely a missed opportunity.

    As to when the Silver Lake opens, I’ll take the over on five years given that Long Park still isn’t complete, we never got the swimming pool we were promised and Sudley (Cathairpin) park is years behind schedule. Keiffer seems to blame it on Ellington, although I also tend to question his ability and agenda, I believe the focus should be more on the BOCS funding practices when it comes to the Park Authority and the manner in which funding and priorities seem to be directed to the Coles and Neabsco districts.

  19. BVBL Reports

    BVBL Reports –

    chicko said on 21 Oct 2008 at 7:16 pm:
    [blah blah blah]
    we’ll have to see how long their blog lasts and how many times their message changes (whatever the message actually is). I give the blog about 6 months before the only posts made are from the big three themselves. they are so busy fighting amongst themselves now it’s not even funny. As they say “evil feeds on itself”, give it time and they’ll all be feeding on each other.

    Anti already has a third of BVBL’s traffic! BVBL has been around since 2005 and Anti 7 months.

  20. Red, Lake Brittle IS still open. However, you can’t walk around the entire thing because people built big-ass houses over there.

    I have some cool pics of Brittle at my Bull Run Writings blog. (I stopped trying to post links here because they NEVER get posted, which is irritation.)

    So Report, who are the “big three” anyway? Looks like a lot more than three around here. Guess BVBL folks can’t count. Yeah. That must be it.

  21. Elena

    Lucky Duck,
    First, let me share that I am a board member for PWCA and have known Kim Hosen for several years, going all the way to back to the fight to stop development in the Rural Crescent with the proposed Greater South Market land development. Kim Hosen is the one of the most selfless and honorable people I know. She puts a remarkable number of hours, all in the name of preserving a clean future for all of us. Unlike developers who make huge profits from land “deals”, there is no direct benefit to Kim. There isn’t big money in saving land for public use. Supervisors and Board Members ALL serve on a varieity of non-profits. We want people who have community involvement!

    NOw, onto what I call was a the travesty of Merrimac Farm and Sean C. Kim had been working for some time, on coordinating a partnership so that the wishes of Colonel McDowell(owner of Merrimac Farm) could be realized. He had bought this land, with his wife, with the intention of preserving it. However, after unexpectedly dying, his widow could not simply just donate it. Now, Sean being a prudent Conservative, should have supported that premise. Seans concerns, were proven unfounded, although his intervention sabatoged the partnership at the time. Subsequently, the land was sold to developers who were later arrested for fraud. By a miracle, Merrimac Farm was once again in a position to be preserved. Kim worked her butt off, and with out her dedication and ability to help bring together the leadership at Quantico and Game Dept. of VA, Merrimac Farm would not be the premier conservation site that it is today.

    I am wondering, why should PWCA’s involvement draw increased scrutiny from taxpayers ? Our goals SAVE taxpayers money!

    I don’t understand, why you don’t support a partnership with BRMC that would have saved taxpayers millions and doubled the acerage of the park for ALL citizens to enjoy. In these troubled economic times, we must start thinking outside the box, especially as it pertains to open space and land conservation.

  22. Elena

    Mom,
    Just read my comments to Lucky Duck, the premise if pretty simple to me. We need to develop partnerships, that simple.

  23. Alanna

    Pinko,
    It’s my spam filter. My best guess is that if it’s a short post with a link it goes into the spam folder.

    Mom,
    I know that the Conservancy met with Toll Brothers before the application was ever heard by the Planning Commission. I happen to think these efforts by BRMC and the local citizenry which organized around them and the ‘Friends of Silver Lake’ project were instrumental in getting that extra land (120/130 acres). John Stirrup got his nose pushed out of joint presumably because Connaughton stepped on his toes. Then Stirrup proceeded to dig in his heels, enlisting the help of the Nokesville Horse Club which apparently is a pet project of his in order to KILL the deal with BRMC.

    At a minimum we should atleast give Connaughton credit for sweetening this deal, no?

  24. Mom

    “I know that the Conservancy met with Toll Brothers before the application was ever heard by the Planning Commission.”

    EXACTLY

    The only thing I give the dark lord credit for is the financial mess the county currently finds itself in, many of the present circumstances are a result of his actions coming home to roost. I can be thankful that his support of the Brentswood project failed as the present situation could be worse. Lest anyone believe I hold him solely responsible, I do not, I blame the whole of the board and currently Nohe. Look at his 2008 SBE disclosure.

    JUL15_08 Borinsky Mr. Daniel – Esquire Settlement Services – $250
    JUL15_08 Britt Mr. Theodore – Old Dominion Speedway – $1000
    JUL15_08 Clemente LLC – Commercial Real Estate – $5000
    JUL15_08 Fairchild Mr. William – R.W. Murray Co. – Office Construction – $1000
    JUL15_08 Gable Mr. W. Brad – Van Metre Companies – $1000
    JUL15_08 Gregory Construction – Commercial Real Estate – $1000
    JUL15_08 Groupe Mr. Skip – Engineering Groupe Inc. – $1000
    JUL15_08 Peterson Mr. Jon – The Peterson Companies – $5000
    JUL15_08 Rappaport Mr. Gary – 8405 Rappaport Companies – Commercial Property Management – $3000
    JUL15_08 Surface Mr. Bobby – Road Construction – $1000
    JUL15_08 Vanegas Mr. Alex – Town of Purcellville VA – Utilities – $1000
    JUL15_08 Winfield Group – 4 Commercial Real Estate Broker – $500

  25. we need more parks

    Connaughton was first elected in November 1999. Since then the county grew by more than 110,000 residents but government acquired only 392 acres of new park land. That’s about 155 sq.feet of park land (the size of the average living room) for each new resident (never mind existing existing residents who are clamoring for more parks). So the idea of Connaughton as a champion for park land seems a little silly.

    Not to mention that, while Connaughton gets the credit for securing the Toll Brothers proffer to donate Silver Lake, you’ve got to wonder about a deal for new park land that doesn’t result in public access to that park land. What good is that?

    Leaving Silver Lake closed – two years already – still costs taxpayers. The county has to commit resources to protecting Silver Lake from trespassers, such as ATV users, poachers, and squatters and others using the buildings that are on the property. Or maybe government doesn’t actually do this, in which case there’s no direct cost to taxpayers but the quality of Silver Lake is degraded.

    The Silver Lake proffer has not added public parkland for residents because it is not open to the public. Who would want credit for a deal that didn’t benefit residents – but did benefit Toll Brothers, who got approval for more houses, and Connaughton, who got “credit” for getting new “parkland”.

  26. Alanna

    Mom,
    So what if Toll Brothers and the Conservancy met? And thank God they did, otherwise how would Toll have known what that parcel of land meant to residents? Stirrup wasn’t able to broker the deal so citizens were forced to take the initiative. In my book the Conservancy and Connaughton NOT Stirrup deserve credit for the County acquiring that additional land.

  27. Mom

    I didn’t say Stirrup deserved the credit, my premise is and was, that at the end of the day the land would have been transferred to the County regardless who brokered the deal. The lake was simply a bargaining chip used by Toll Brothers to amend their initial rezoning. I would wager a hefty sum it was part of their business model from the get go, designed to take advantage of whatever niche of the housing market was hot or politically feasible at the time they were ready to procede past the capacity of the initial rezoning. Cynical, yes, right, probably.

  28. Alanna

    welcome we need more parks,

    I only had this one interaction with Connaughton but thought it worked out well for the County.

    I completely agree with your comments. I have heard the copper pipes have been stolen. I have seen kids with bathing suits at the entrance. In fact, I’ve heard about highschoolers talk about jumping off the cliffs. I know that a teenager died in the quarry some time back, so I know it’s not ideal that this land is sitting there unsupervised.

    But, I guess we can all look forward to it being open in the Spring. I believe that’s what the Park Authority committed to. So, we’ll see.

  29. Lucky Duck

    Hi Elena, I am just uncomfortable with someone who has such an agenda being on the planning commission. This blog, in another thread, just discussed the consequences of putting someone a a board or commission with a stated agenda. Such a move indicates a lesser degree of flexibility and how does one assure the taxpayers that such a person’s agenda is ALWAYS in the best interest of the County?

    She did not, in my opinion, handle the Merrimac farm issue in the best way. I quote the Washington Post..”Hosen, acting as the conservation alliance’s executive director, applied for the $2 million state grant. In her proposal, she stated that the land’s sale was imminent and points to a vote of the county Planning Commission scheduled for the next day. There is no indication on the application that Hosen is on the Prince William Planning Commission or that she is a family friend.” Ms. Hosen, quoted by the paper, said she was “tired” and forgot to disclose her membership on the Planning Commission.

    Whether you agree with her agenda or not, it does direct her viewpoint as a member of the planning commission and there is a potential for conflict between her conservation duties and agenda and those of her position on the Planning Commission.

    While Supervisor May is also a Conservation member, he was elected. Ms. Hosen was not.

    I am all for public/private partnerships. I am against them when a central figure has one foot on each side. That, in my opinion, requires extra caution when you play with public money.

  30. we need more parks

    Lucky Duck, it’s fun to pick and chose which parts of a Washington Post article you believe. Really it’s better to check the facts for yourself, especially if it’s local news printed in the Washington Post. But here’s some quotes from the same article that should have given you pause:

    “McDowell’s daughter Anne Schafer said the family was disappointed with Connaughton’s interference. “He’s trying to kill the deal,” Schafer said.”

    “Connaughton also drew the ire of some of his peers, who worry that he stirred up trouble. Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries) said she is sponsoring a resolution to show the county’s support for Hosen.”

    But this is all old dirt and we now know that article misrepresented the situation – otherwise how could Merrimac Farm now be a state-owned wildlife management area, thanks to the efforts of the Prince William Conservation Alliance, the U.S. Marines and the VA Game Dept. Maybe you should do a web search and update yourself on the issue.

    As for your concerns about conflict of interest, planning commissioners do complete public disclosure forms, unlike the members of the citizen committee you reference. Planning commissioners are not allowed to participate in any discussion or vote on issues where they could personally benefit, also unlike the members of the citizen committee you reference.

    Are you suggesting that planning commissioners should not be part of any local organization or only local environmental organizations? If it’s every organization, there probably wouldn’t be anyone left on the planning commission – I believe most are very active in a variety of community and civic organizations.

  31. Elena

    Hi Lucky Duck,
    Unfortunately, the track record of PWC government preserving open space and creating quality Park land is dismal at best. We have 9 acres per 1,000 residents of parks compared to Fairfax, which has DOUBLE that amount and yet have almost completely developed every square inch that is possible. PWC is in a unique position, we have so much opportunity to carve out this part of the Piedmont as something extraordinary and instead, we continue to do business as usual, as demonstrated in the current Centers of Community Comp Plan fiasco. Kim’s goal has always been, and will remain, promoting conservation that not only benefits our quality of life by protecting the chesapeake bay watershed, but also our pockets. By promoting conservation and proper land development, PWCA ultimately saves taxpayer money, as clearly shown in the partnership of Merrimac Farm(not one penny of PWC budget went to support that endeavor). It is a shame that PWC did not have the same forsight when it came to Silver Lake. I’m not sure what “taxpayer” money you referencing. Many projects bid on the money that was granted to Merrimac Farm and yet WE, PWC residents, were chosen to the be the recipients of that grant money. Kim should be commended for her hard work, certainly the Marine Corp base was appreciative, the McDowell family was, as was the Game Dept. She was the nexus that brought it all together.

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