The ruling by the Albemarle Public Recreational Facilities Authority means that members of the group Rock Crawlers for the Preservation of Future Access can resume events if they can get permission from the county’s zoning department.
“They can apply for a special-use permit for this, so that would take into consideration traffic and the noise,” said Andrew Herrick, an assistant county attorney.
The club has used land owned by Joseph T. Henley III as a four-wheel-drive vehicle course for a number of years, with his permission. However, the land is under a conservation easement held by the recreation facilities authority and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.
“They go to areas of particularly rough terrain and rock-outcrops and attempt to navigate their vehicles over them,” said Scott Clark, a rural-area planner with the county.
In March, the county’s zoning department issued a notice of violation calling for the activity to be stopped.
After the zoning department was notified, both easement holders made their own investigation.
“After the club was contacted by VOF about the activity, they marked out the creeks with tape to prevent access and they said that they never used them much anyway,” Clark said.
Clark told the authority the activity was not a violation, and added that he had not seen permanent damage during his site visit.
One section of the easement prohibits commercial activities, and the recreation authority discussed whether usage fees paid to the club constituted a business transaction.
Rex Linville, the Piedmont Environment Council land conservation officer for Albemarle County, said the club has previously solicited a $25-a-day fee to use the course.
“That strikes me as commerce, which may in fact be contrary to the easement,” Linville said.
Clark said a website that lists the fee appears to be out-of-date.
“Mr. Henley has not received money from the club to allow this and the club has not charged access fees to use the property,” Clark said. “At one point, they were charging registration fees to cover their administrative costs, but there is no money changing hands for use of the property.”
One member of the recreation authority board was supportive of the use.
“It sounds like fun to me, and that’s what they’re trying to do,” said recreation authority member David Emmitt. “I don’t find what they’re doing totally out of character with that property, as long as they stay out of the stream.”
Emmitt said he would consider frequent events at the site to be a violation.
“There is wiggle room in there for occasional activities that are consistent with preservation,” Emmitt said. “I don’t think riding over rocks is consistent with that, but if they were doing mudding, I would have a totally different attitude.”
Bruce Dotson, an Albemarle planning commissioner and recreation authority member, disagreed with Emmitt.
“There is risk to the conservation values, to the watershed, to the habitat, and the quiet enjoyment of the area,” Dotson said. “It seems like there would be potential spillage due to mishandling of fuel for the vehicles.”
The club operates at several locations throughout the Mid-Atlantic, and has hired an attorney to find a way to continue at least some events at the Henley property.
“We’re hoping to be able to continue with the charitable events and we’ll have to come up with an understanding with what we can or can’t do,” said Hayden Lockhart, the club’s president.
Previous events have raised money for Toys for Tots and the Wounded Warrior Project.