Preserving Fluvanna’s land and open space

Contributed by Marvin F. Moss

One of the most remarkable achievements in 21st Century Fluvanna history has been ensuring that thousands of acres of agricultural land and open space would be protected in the future either in perpetuity or for periods of up to ten years.  This was made possible by a combination of factors including the active encouragement of the Fluvanna Historical Society and local citizens committed to preserving our farmland and open space.  The map below illustrates perhaps better than anything the location and scope of protected land.  I asked the Planning Department to prepare this map.  It, for the first time, illustrates all the land protected and merges the conservation easements with land under our Agricultural Forestal District ordinance.  Since there is considerable crossover between these two categories, this map gives a more accurate and updated visualization of the current situation.

How did this all come about?  It really began with a series of Heritage Forums I organized with a grant from the National Park Service with the goal of ascertaining what Fluvanna’s citizens held dear in their community and what specifically they desired to protect.  The first forum was held at Camp Friendship on March 26, 1999.  The ad hoc committee organizing the meeting held extensive outreach meetings with community groups and citizens in preparation for the forum.  The forum was advertised as “…a Citizen Forum to Discuss How to Preserve, Protect and Promote the Historical, Natural and Cultural Heritage of Fluvanna in the Context of Change.”  In addition to the Historical Society, the Rivanna Conservation Society and the Fluvanna Heritage Trail Foundation were involved in planning the conference.  It was a great success with over 300 local citizens and our local, state and federal elected officials participating as well.  The printed report on this forum is available at the Fluvanna Public Library.

Two other Heritage Forums ensued.  The last one on April 6, 2002 concentrated specifically on how to preserve open space in Fluvanna.  At the same time the Historical Society recognized that preserving open space was an important element in historic preservation and in 2002 published a booklet entitled “Preservation – the Key to Keeping our County Rural” including wonderful drawings by Ellen Miyagawa, former president of the Society.

With the help of Deborah Murdock and other Society volunteers, a list of all Fluvanna property owners with over 100 acres of land was compiled.  Using this list, the Society hosted a series of public meetings using the booklet as its principal source in encouraging these landowners to preserve their land.  Among other things, presenters outlined the financial benefits of easements inspiring  many owners to place easements on their properties.  That initiative was phenomenally successful with a total of 15,951 acres now under conservation or historic easements

In 2003, the late Kent Loving and others began to petition the Board of Supervisors to pass an ordinance implementing a local program of Agricultural & Forestal Districts which provides for the protection of farmland for up to 10 years with options for renewing at the end of that period. Loving was successful, and now 16,856 acres of land are in this program. Most landowners involved have renewed their commitment each time.  Of that amount, 4,925 acres are also under easements meaning that a total of 27,882 acres of Fluvanna rural areas are protected from development either permanently or for up to 10 years. Another success story for the people of Fluvanna County.

A further positive development was Fluvanna County passing a law allowing it to hold conservation easements.  This made it much easier for landowners to place their land under protective covenants. To date, Fluvanna holds five conservations easements totaling 1,148 acres.  One of the easements is as small as 24 acres.  The largest is 665 acres.

There is, of course, other rural land in Fluvanna County which is owned by the government and thus protected from development including the 969 acres of Pleasant Grove and the 1,500 acres of the Hardware River State Wildlife Management Area along the James and Hardware Rivers.  Some private properties also have development covenants in the recorded deeds for the property.

Fluvanna citizens have been highly successful in achieving the goals outlined in the Heritage Forums and in protecting open space throughout the county, an important step in retaining the rural character so highly prized by them and by visitors.

Marvin Moss is president of the Fluvanna Historical Society and former member and chair of the Board of Supervisors.  His home, Glen Burnie, is an 1829 house with 187 acres which are on the National Register of Historic Places and under an historic easement with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

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