Biscuit Run Park was an ambitious undertaking — perhaps too ambitious.
Now Albemarle County is having to ask Richmond for money to develop the park — and that might be overly ambitious as well.
At least state Sen. Creigh Deeds is supportive. “This is one that we have to make happen,” he recently told the Board of Supervisors.
Biscuit Run has traveled a rocky course so far, and smoother waters are not yet in sight.
A development group bought 1,200 acres south of Charlottesville for $46.2 million in 2006, planning to build an 800-acre subdivision and reserve 400 acres for a local park.
Soon, the Great Recession hit — and the project ultimately drowned in red-ink floodwaters. But the owners salvaged some benefits by selling the land to Virginia for $9.8 million in cash and about $12.5 million in tax credits.
The commonwealth’s plan was to convert the property into a state park. In 2013, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation adopted an impressive three-phase master plan that eventually would turn the property into one of the best parks in the state.
But that plan also fell through. A state bond issue proposal had included $42.5 million for Biscuit Run, but the General Assembly removed that item from the package in 2016.
In 2017, Sen. Deeds and Del. David J. Toscano submitted requests for $837,000 to build an access road and a gravel parking lot, which would at least have allowed for day access. But the General Assembly killed those hopes, too.
Then Albemarle County stepped in. In 2018, it entered into a no-cost lease agreement with the state, good for 99 years, to take over the undeveloped park.
To develop the park, Albemarle was to receive $5 million from a “mitigation fund” supported by money paid to the state by developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The idea was to somehow counterbalance environmental damage elsewhere in our region by creating the new park here and protecting much of its land as perpetual forest.
The pipeline’s future is in doubt, however. And if the pipeline doesn’t go through — a result devoutly desired by many — then the mitigation fund money won’t go through, either.
And so Albemarle is going back to the state to ask for other money — $15 million over three years. The county already has allocated $2 million on its own to start basic improvements.
Albemarle also has tried to interest neighboring jurisdictions in helping to fund Biscuit Run with the aim that it would serve as a truly regional park. In fact, if developed as planned, the park will serve that purpose in any case: It will be so attractive that it likely will bring visitors from surrounding areas regardless of whether neighboring jurisdictions pay to play. So far, none of Albemarle’s neighbors has stepped up to join that effort.
With other local jurisdictions declining, so far, to get involved, and with mitigation fund money at risk, Albemarle had little choice but to ask the state directly for help.
But Richmond has a poor record in that regard. It turned down a previous request, and even stripped Biscuit Run from the bond issue proposal that went to voters.
Past does not have to be prologue — especially if the fall election dramatically changes the General Assembly’s makeup. New viewpoints from new members could improve the county’s chances of landing funds.
No matter where the money comes from, however, Biscuit Run Park is an ambitious undertaking. The county might have to lower its expectations — or extend its timeline for accomplishing the project.