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Town of Occoquan to Purchase Oaks III Property

Occoquan, VA –

On Tuesday evening, the Occoquan Town Council authorized Mayor Earnie Porta to execute an agreement with the NRA Foundation to purchase the 17+ acre property at the corner of Old Bridge and Tanyard Hill Roads, colloquially known as Oaks III. The unanimous vote of the Town Council was the result of months of discussion and negotiation between the parties. “This is a great outcome for the town and the surrounding community, “said Occoquan Mayor Earnie Porta. “With this agreement we will be achieving the long-sought goal of preserving for generations a wilderness area along the Tanyard Hill Road.”

The Oaks III property was the subject of intense controversy in 2011 and 2012, when developer Ken Thompson sought to rezone the property, which is outside of Town boundaries, to permit construction of a commercial building with associated parking. Although the rezoning set aside a portion of the property in a conservation easement and promised improved storm water systems, the Town of Occoquan strongly opposed the rezoning application, citing concerns about storm water, traffic, the economic viability of the property for commercial use, and a lack of consultation with the town. Opposition intensified in the fall of 2011, when Occoquan suffered flash-flooding from Ballywhack Creek, a major tributary of which had been adversely affected by what a county report identified as uncontrolled run-off from an adjacent commercial property owned by the same developer. Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors deferred the decision on the rezoning application until after the 2011 elections, and in the interim the Town of Occoquan offered to purchase the property using a combination of cash and tax incentives – an offer that was rejected by the developer. In January of 2012, despite the presence in opposition of hundreds of Occoquan residents, business owners, and members of the surrounding community, the BOCS voted 5-3 to approve the rezoning application. “We don’t know,” said Mayor Porta, “why Ken Thompson didn’t proceed with developing the property. We’ve not heard from him since the rezoning decision in January of 2012, but we are very grateful that the NRA Foundation was again willing to discuss the property with us. They have been flexible and constructive community partners in working out this arrangement.”

According to Mayor Porta the entire property will be placed in a conservation easement, preventing future development. The Town plans to use the property as a passive recreation park, with trails, educational kiosks, and the like. “The property provides wonderful opportunities for both passive recreation and educational displays,” said Porta. “It also opens the door to all types of constructive collaborations with other community partners.” Porta envisions, for example, the possibility of working with an adjoining property owner and LRPRA to construct an extensive trail system with wide appeal. LRPRA owns an environmentally sensitive 65-acre parcel that abuts Tanyard Hill Road at the town boundary. “If we are able to effectively connect those two properties,” said Porta, “we could have something really special – an extensive and accessible wilderness setting in an otherwise rapidly developing area.”

Porta indicated that there a great many people to thank for the positive outcome. “In particular,” he said, “I want to thank the current Town Council members – Liz Quist, Jim Walbert, Denise Bush, Joe McGuire, and Pat Sivigny – for so enthusiastically embracing the arrangement. Additionally, it’s important to recognize the contributions of the former town council members who worked collaboratively to oppose the initial rezoning request, as well as County Supervisors May, Principi, and Nohe, who supported the town at that time, and the hundreds of residents, business owners, and others in the surrounding community who came out in support back in January of 2012. This was a diverse group that included Occoquan activists like James Phelps, officials like Planning Commissioner Kim Hosen, and a variety of business and community leaders. I firmly believe that community engagement a few years ago played a major role in making the current agreement possible. Even some of those who were on the other side of the issue at the time have since worked hard to make sure the town’s concerns about storm water and flooding are taken into account in the future. This is a community achievement.”

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