A proposal from the Redfields’ Homeowners Association to place nearly 58 acres of forest under conservation easement has received an initial blessing from the public entity that approves that type of land-use change.

“After having fought to ensure it stays as woodland, we could purchase it,” said Stuart Lowson, a member of the homeowners association’s board of directors.
 
The Albemarle County Public Recreational Facilities Authority voted unanimously Thursday on a motion that indicates that the land meets the criteria for an easement.
 
The authority accepts, holds and administers conservation easements located in the county.
 
Gaylon Beights, the developer of the Redfields neighborhood, had sought to rezone the land in order to build 126 homes on it.
 
However, in December, the Board of Supervisors sided with neighbors who argued they had been told by Realtors that the land would remain undeveloped as open space.
 
After their unanimous decision to deny the rezoning, some supervisors indicated they would support a less dense development if it had some support from the neighborhood.
 
However, Redfields residents sought the permanent protection that could come with an easement.
 
“The reason to do [this] is that a future homeowners association might sell the land for future development, so the land would be protected,” said A. Bruce Dotson, a member of both the authority and the Albemarle Planning Commission.
 
The two parcels, which total about 58 acres, were assessed by the county at the beginning of 2012 at just under $1 million, in total.
 
Lowson said the homeowners association could bring down the effective purchase cost of the property because putting the land under easement would bring tax credits.
 
The proposal met several requirements necessary before a conservation easement can be accepted.
 
“Large areas of critical slopes would remain unforested, the entire property would remain as forested buffer to streams… [and] forest preservation will protect the sites,” wrote Scott Clark, Albemarle County’s rural planner, in his staff report.
 
As part of the process, the authority can only consider an easement if several questions are answered affirmatively: Will the easement be granted in perpetuity? Is it consistent 
with the Comprehensive Plan? Will the land be improved only in ways that avoid impacts to natural resources?
 
Clark determined the answer to all those questions is “yes,” but a fourth question that asked if an easement would eliminate residential development was answered as “disputed.”
 
“Right now, it doesn’t have rights for any development because it is the open space portion of a planned residential development,” Clark said during Thursday’s meeting.
 
However, that could change pending an upcoming court case.
 
In January, Redfields Development Corp. filed suit in Albemarle County Circuit Court to appeal the supervisors’ decision.
 
In the lawsuit, Redfields attorneys maintain the county did not have the right to require a rezoning because the original approval for Redfields in 1990 allowed up to 656 homes, and the corporation claimed it has the right to build up to 215 additional units. So far, 441 lots have been developed in several phases.
 
A hearing will be held at 3 p.m. Sept. 10.
 
Some members of the authority initially were skeptical about the matter because the proposal was generated by the neighborhood, and not the owner of the land.
 
“I, for one, wouldn’t feel comfortable taking our usual type of action when the landowner is not the one proposing to donate,” Dotson said.
 
“I think the HOA is looking for some assurance that this would be accepted as a conservation easement,” said Andrew Herrick, the county’s senior assistant attorney. “This is something that is a bit of a hypothetical at this point but it is perfectly within the purview of the PRFA to accept it.”
 
Dotson suggested that the authority issue a statement saying it would generally support the proposal but that the actual details would need to come back before it.
 
“I didn’t come into this expecting a signature,” Lowson said. “I just wanted to make sure it was not a flat-out rejection.”
 
Lowson claimed that the Redfields’ Homeowners Association is amenable to the negotiations.
 
“They feel that in the long-term, us purchasing this property would make sense compared to fighting each other in the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors,” Lowson said.
 
The land is in Supervisor Duane E. Snow’s Samuel Miller District and he is supportive of the easement.
 
“I would like to see an agreement between RDC and Redfields so that the issue of development is resolved once and for all,” Snow said in an email.
 
Lowson said if negotiations go well, the neighborhood association hopes to purchase the land by the end of the year.
 
If the land is put under easement, the county has expressed no interest in taking on the land as another park.
 
“It was discussed and considered and determined that the property holds no strategic recreational value to the county,” said Albemarle’s parks director, Bob Crickenberger, in a June email.
 
Beights could not be reached for comment for this story.