The General Assembly is considering a proposal from Gov. Terry McAuliffe to raise $140 million for state parks through the sale of bonds, including $42.5 million in funding for the proposed Biscuit Run State Park in Albemarle County.
“With the proximity to downtown Charlottesville, we believe it will be one of the most heavily visited parks in the state,” said Clyde Cristman, director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
McAuliffe announced in December that his proposed budget would feature a $2.43 billion bond package that included the parks funding.
In the House of Delegates, the request is part of the budget bill, HB30.
However, the bond package is part of a separate bill in the Senate. SB731 was introduced by Sen. Emmett W. Hanger, R-Mount Solon, with additional support from Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City County.
That bill is currently awaiting consideration by the Senate Finance Committee.
One question is whether the legislature will approve the governor’s full parks request, including all three phases of the nearly 1,200-acre Biscuit Run State Park.
“We won’t have any real clarity on this until we’re in conference committee,” said Dan Holmes, director of state policy for the Piedmont Environmental Council. That will occur only after the legislation has been considered by both chambers.
If the package remains intact, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation also would be able to develop the $43 million Widewater State Park in Stafford County. The state of Virginia purchased 1,100 acres between Aquia Creek and the Potomac River for the park in 2006 but has been unable to pay for its development.
“I think there is general support and for making sure the land-banked parks get open,” Holmes said.
Various maintenance and construction projects that would be conducted at state parks across Virginia also would be funded.
The land for Biscuit Run originally had been slated for 3,100 homes and commercial buildings after the Albemarle Board of Supervisors rezoned the land in September 2007.
However Forest Lodge LLC sold the land in December 2009 to the state for $9.8 million in cash and tax credits as part of former Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s efforts to protect more land with conservation easements.
A master plan for Biscuit Run State Park was adopted in October 2013 with input from the public and business interests. In all, there will be three phases of development.
The first phase will include building of roads, trails, maintenance buildings, a park office and a discovery center. A picnic area and playgrounds also would be installed, and the park would be connected to public water and sewer lines.
Phase 2 would create a campground area and a water feature. Phase 3 would include 20 cabins and an equestrian trail.
The bond proceeds, as requested, would cover the full cost of park development.
Cristman said that is because the governor wants to reap the cost benefits of hiring one contractor to perform all three phases. He added that other state parks such as Lake Anna State Park can take decades to fully build out, delaying the possibility of economic development efforts.
Cristman said Biscuit Run could have as much as a $6.6 million annual impact to the regional economy.
“That’s simply an estimation based on what would be the projected number of visitors,” Cristman said.
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville has been campaigning for a series of bike and pedestrian trails to connect the state park to the Southwood Mobile Home Park, which Habitat is expected to redevelop as a mixed-income community.
“Habitat is committed to working closely with the Department of Conservation and Recreation to coordinate our planning efforts,” said Habitat President Dan Rosensweig. “We are meeting with DCR planners next month to talk about how Southwood and Biscuit Run can best be linked up for the benefit of the entire community.”
If approved by the General Assembly, the bonds would be raised through the Virginia Public Building Authority and would not require a statewide referendum.
Additional proceeds also would go toward various construction projects at public universities, including a renovation of Gilmer Hall at the University of Virginia.