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The owners of 405 acres of mountainous land south of Charlottesville have given Albemarle County officials a month to decide on accepting their gift of the property.
The county’s decision will depend on whether a partnership can be created to help manage the land until Albemarle can invest in infrastructure needed to operate land as a public park.
“What I am not willing to do is wait one week, one week, one week, and then in the year 2018 we’re still talking about [this],” said Jose V. Lambert, who owns the land with his partner, Montgomery “Bird” Woods.
In an official letter to the county, Lambert and Woods had requested a decision be made by Oct. 30.
Four of the six supervisors visited the property in late October, but did not have a formal meeting on the issue until Wednesday.
The board first met in closed session to discuss accepting the gift, and then agreed to debate the issue in public.
All supervisors expressed at least some degree of interest in receiving the property, but all are also cautious about potential risks and wary of the costs.
“Perhaps the more sensible thing to do is to limit our vision, but my heart says to reach for it,” Mallek said. “As Mark Twain said, ‘They’re not making any more land.’”
“This is five or six minutes from town, and you go on the property and it’s just amazing,” said Supervisor Duane E. Snow. “I personally would hate to see it get away.”
Bob Crickenberger, the director of the county’s parks and recreations department, said the county’s decision is complicated by two other potential gifts.
Buck Island Creek would be a 122-acre donation along the Rivanna River and Hedgerow Trail is approximately 400 acres south of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.
“Both of those facilities are currently in the hands of the Nature Conservancy,” Crickenberger said.
Buck Island would provide the potential for boat access to the Rivanna River and Hedgerow Trail could add to the trail network at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area.
The department’s operating budget for the current fiscal year is $2.3 million. Another $2.4 million is set aside in the five-year capital improvement program for infrastructure and maintenance.
Crickenberger said it would be at least five years before Arrowhead Farm would be in line for funding to build infrastructure there.
Supervisors considered the risk of having people visit the park and use it in a way that damages a rare ecosystem.
“Part of the problem we can have is that once the county acquires property and it becomes known that it’s owned by the public, there’s a tendency for people to take it upon themselves to use the property,” Rooker said.
One of the issues would be how to protect the rocky outcrops that contain rare and unique native species.
“Are we interested in receiving this property as a gift in order to preserve the rare flora there, or are we planning on using it as an active walking park?” asked Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd. “If we allow people to go out there, they’re going to be all over those ferns and rocks and possibly destroy them.”
Snow said the operators of the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary have expressed interest in managing the property on the county’s behalf for a period of several years.
He said a nonprofit like Rockfish could take on the responsibility of policing the land until it could receive funding in the capital improvement program. The benefit to them was they could use the land to release wildlife they have nursed back to health.
During the discussion, Lambert expressed impatience at the length of time it is taking the county to make a decision.
“We are wasting time, and I’m not getting any younger,” Lambert told supervisors.
Rooker responded that supervisors have to weigh the county’s best interest, and needs a partner to help maintain the park.
“I’m more than willing to give the county the opportunity to work with Rockfish or whoever you choose to preserve this property,” Lambert said, adding his goal is for the county to take the land by the end of next June.
Rooker requested one more month so staff can see is Rockfish will work on a partnership.
“All of us thank you for considering giving this beautiful property to the county,” Rooker said. “Along the way, if you feel we have not responded graciously, I think we all apologize.”
Natoo Attinger, a wildlife rehabilitator with the sanctuary, said in a phone interview she hopes a deal can be forged.
“I think it would be a perfect marriage,” Attinger said.