By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, January 08, 2010

Governor Tim Kaine appeared at Monticello today to formally announce the Commonwealth of Virginia’s purchase of the 1,200 acre

Biscuit Run

tract formerly owned by Forest Lodge LLC. Two-thirds of the property had been zoned for development of up to 3,100 homes, but now all of the land

will be turned into a state park

.


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Governor Kaine spoke to a packed crowd at Monticello


The purchase of Biscuit Run by the state helped Kaine reach a goal of conserving over 400,000 acres during his term as governor. He told the audience the idea was inspired by the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.

“The idea was to try to conserve 1,000 acres for every year since [1607],” Kaine said. The goal was reached through a combination of land purchases and conservation easements. In all, over 424,000 acres have been permanently protected from development in Virginia since July 1, 2005.

The state paid $9.8 million to purchase the property from Forest Lodge LLC. Just over half of that amount came from bonds specifically issued to raise money to purchase land for state parks. Voters approved the bond issue in a 2002 referendum. The rest of the money came from federal transportation enhancement funds.

Kaine said he first learned of the opportunity to purchase Biscuit Run when he received a called from former Congressman L.F. Payne. He said negotiations were handled by Natural Resources Secretary Preston Bryant, but he said he understood the reasons why investors in Forest Lodge LLC wanted to sell Biscuit Run, which they reportedly paid $46.2 million for in 2005.

“The real estate market, the desire to do something positive for the region, and an awareness that open space disappears every day,” Kaine said were all motivating factors.

The owners of Forest Lodge LLC, including developer Hunter Craig, will now be eligible to apply for Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credits and federal charitable deductions. The exact value of these credits will be a matter between Craig and the department of taxation.

“Our tax department really goes over these assessments very, very carefully, and there’s no guarantee what the tax credits will be,” Kaine said. “The only guarantee was the purchase price.”





Governor Kaine speaking to reporters


Kaine acknowledged the land is worth a lot more than what the state paid for it. In 2009, Albemarle County assessed the property at $44 million. This is the third state park acquired during the Kaine administration, and the first ever to be located in this part of Central Virginia. The new state park will not be programmed until a public master planning process, which could take up to a year.

“The reason we’ve not been able to purchase a state park in the Charlottesville area is that the land costs have been too high,” Kaine said.


Ann Mallek

, Chair of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, said the acquisition of Biscuit Run helps soften the blow that comes with the reduction in funds for the County’s

Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) program

.

“It is a harsh financial reality that our ACE program must shrink at a time when our purchasing ability would be the best in many years,” Mallek said. County funding for ACE was cut in half for this fiscal year and will likely be eliminated entirely for next year. In October 2009, Supervisors

directed staff to consider cutting all local funding of the ACE program

and to only appropriate the $350,000 that comes from the Virginia Department of Tourism.


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