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What is the Greater Wilderness Area Plan?
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What is the Greater Wilderness Area Plan?

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Chip King, Kenny Dotson and Charles Payne have submitted plans for a mixed-use development in the Greater Wilderness Area north of Route 3. The proposed development is west of the intersection of Route 20 and Route 3 and stretches to the Lake of the Woods community on the opposite side of Route 3 (pictured at left in Orange).

The Germanna-Wilderness Area Plan traces its origins to September 2013, when the county board of supervisors, economic development authority and planning commission established the Route 3 Strategic Visioning Initiative Steering Committee (name later changed to the Germanna-Wilderness Area Plan Steering Committee).

After a nearly two-year period of laying out the goals for the area, conducting a charette and accepting public feedback, the committee presented a draft of the GWAP to the three previously mentioned government entities. Following a final series of reviews, the GWAP was formally adopted on July 14, 2015, and added to the Orange County Comprehensive Plan.

The GWAP comprises approximately 14,542 acres of land and water or roughly 23 square miles. The region takes up about 7% of the county’s total area. It is more than double the size of Charlottesville. It sits in a central spot in north central Virginia and is close to a number of major cities and towns: 1.5 hours from Washington D.C., 1 hour and 20 minutes from Richmond, 1 hour and 10 minutes from Charlottesville, 35 minutes from Fredericksburg, 30 minutes from Culpeper and 30 minutes from Orange.

Located at the nexus of Route 20 and Route 3, the GWAP is defined by these two important state highways. Route 20 connects Buckingham County to Orange County and Route 3 connects Culpeper to Gloucester on the Middle Peninsula near the Chesapeake Bay.

The GWAP is divided into eight distinct “subareas” each with its own historical sites and natural features.

Subarea 1, known as “Spotswood,” is the northernmost of the subareas and is bounded by the Rapidan River and Culpeper County line to the north, Subarea 2 to the east and Route 3 and Subarea 3 to the south and west. It is home to a significant excavation site owned by the Germanna Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 1956 dedicated to maintaining the land settled by Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood in the early 1700s. Subarea 1 is mostly residential but does include some retail such as the Walmart on Route 3. Possibly the biggest change the GWAP would make to Subarea 1 is to approve zoning for a town center shopping area to be built behind Walmart.

Subarea 2, known as “Manahoac,” (named for the extinct tribe or group of Native Americans that lived in the area until 1728) is bounded by the Rapidan River and Culpeper County to the north, Subarea 1 to the west, Subarea 4 to the east and Route 3 and Subarea 5 to the south. Other than Subarea 5 (Lake of the Woods) it contains the most residential units and well established neighborhoods of the eight subareas. A number of abandoned mines are scattered throughout the subarea. It also contains Somerset Farms Golf Course within its boundaries. The GWAP calls for building out the existing neighborhoods, adding a small amount of mixed-use development next to Route 3 and designating some of the land around the outskirts of the subarea as “Conservation and Open Space/Recreation.”

Subarea 3, known as “Germanna,” is by far the smallest in area of the eight subareas at only 371 acres of space or 0.58 square miles. However, it encompasses some key institutions and cultural resources in the entire GWAP. The Germanna Foundation visitor center, memorial garden and walking trails are situated in the northwest corner of the subarea on the bank of the Rapidan River. Right next door is Germanna Community College’s (GCC) Locust Grove campus. Subarea 3 is bounded by the Rapidan River and Culpeper County to the west, Subarea 1 to the north and east, and Subareas 5 and 6 to the south. It is the least dense of the eight subareas and contains no documented residential units or homes. The majority of the space is wooded and undeveloped. In the GWAP there are no plans to build housing or add commercial space in the area within the next 50 years. As such, the GWAP steering committee sees the subarea as an excellent place for recreation, education and history. GCC is expected to break ground in early 2022 on a new health sciences building and clinic to replace the current (and only) building on the Locust Grove campus.

Subarea 4, known as “Wilderness Run,” is bounded by the Rapidan River and Culpeper County to the north, Spotsylvania County to the east, Subarea 5 (Lake of the Woods) to the west and south and Subarea 8 to the south. This subarea presents possibly one of the best opportunities for future development and the location of the proposed Wilderness Crossing mixed-use development.

Plans for the 2,602-acre project were officially submitted to the department of planning and zoning for review and feedback earlier this year. According to documents made available by the department, landowner Charles “Chip” King submitted 21 applications for zoning map amendments on March 12 and 13. The first three applications were signed directly by King and the other 18 were authored by KEG Associates III LLC, a corporation set up to oversee the rezoning process. KEG Associates III is represented by Kenneth “Kenny” Dotson, a local business owner, and Charles W. Payne Jr., a lawyer with Hirschler Law Firm’s Fredericksburg office.

The subarea is largely undeveloped and had a population of 32 in 2015. Notably, Subarea 4 also contains several prehistoric and Civil War era campsites. Most of the changes called for by the GWAP steering committee in their plan align with what is featured in the proposed Wilderness Crossing development.

Subarea 5, known as “Lake of the Woods,” is the most developed of the eight subareas and also the densest. The 2015 population for the subarea was 7,498. The subarea is bounded by every other subarea in the GWAP: Subareas 1, 2 and 3 to the north, Subarea 6 to the west, Subareas 7 and 8 to the south and Route 3 and Subarea 4 to the west.

Because of the community’s centralized location and size, it has an enormous effect on the direction of the GWAP and the county as a whole.

Subarea 6, known as “Flat Run,” is by far the largest in the GWAP; it comes in at 3,383 acres or 5.3 square miles. The subarea is bounded by the Rapidan River, Culpeper County and Subarea 3 to the north, the Burr Hill and Locust Grove areas of Orange County to the west, Route 20 and Subarea 7 to the south and Subarea 5 (Lake of the Woods) to the east. The GWAP calls for building out the existing neighborhoods in Subarea 6 and improving many of the roads and right-of-ways. Subarea 6 is notable because it is the only subarea with a school in its boundaries, Locust Grove Middle School, which is situated at the intersection of Route 20 and 601. A bullet point in the GWAP indicates that the subarea could be a good site for a second high school as Orange County continues to grow.

Subarea 7, known as “South Wilderness,” is the southernmost of the eight subareas. It is bounded by Subareas 5 and 6 to the north, the Locust Grove and Mine Run areas to the west, Spotsylvania County to the south and Subarea 8 to the east. The subarea is rather sparsely populated and mostly farmland. The Wilderness Branch Library is within its borders and is one of the facilities targeted for expansion by the GWAP steering committee.

Subarea 8, known as “Battlefield,” is bounded by Subareas 4 and 5 to the north, Subareas 5 and 7 to the west, and Spotsylvania County to the south and east. Arguably home to one of the most significant Civil War battlefield sites in the state, the Battle of the Wilderness, the subarea is primarily devoted to historic preservation and park land.

The GWAP calls for preserving the land in and around the battlefield and focusing almost all development along the Route 20 and 3 corridors. A small portion of new residential units are proposed for the western corner of Subarea 8.

Plans that are submitted for structures within the GWAP are subject to a higher standard of design and specific aesthetic than other county developments. Many of these requirements come from the Route 3 Corridor Charette, which took place in 2014.

Josh Gillespie, the county’s planning and development services director offered some thoughts on how the GWAP has held up after nearly six years.

“There’s a lot of recorded history going back to Colonial Virginia and the pre-contact Native Americans,” he said. “But there’s also a fair amount of recent history. Where we have arrived in the last several years, is the result of a serious effort from people at a high level related to the steering committee who have been taking a broad look at overall planning and planning concepts.”

At a May 25 board of supervisors work session, Gillespie updated the board members on the GWAP and where it currently stands.

“The board seems satisfied with the vision behind the GWAP,” he said in a separate interview after the work session. “Frankly, the vision is very recent. However, we are trying to give clarity to folks who want to bring in an application or average citizens trying to understand what the process for the area is.”

To review the Germanna-Wilderness Area Plan as it was adopted in 2015, visit www.orangecountyva.gov/703/Germanna-Wilderness-Area-Plan-GWAP. You can also view and download related documents such as the Route 3 Arterial Management Plan and the Water and Wastewater Master Plan on the same page.

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