New alliance aims to balance Culpeper industry, historic sites and agriculture | Local News

Many residents want Culpeper’s farms to thrive, its rural landscapes to remain intact, and tourism to thrive.

Some of them simply banded together to form the Culpeper Alliance for Balanced Growth, to argue for these results. The alliance describes itself as a group of Culpeper citizens and organizations passionate about the future of their community.

“We are local business owners, farmers, residents, civic leaders and organizations united in the belief that the future development and growth of Culpeper must be balanced between industrial and rural industries,” the group states in its mission statement.

“It requires vision, resolution and thoughtful discourse on how to plan for growth. We care about the county’s tax base, jobs, support for farmers and businesses, and our service districts, while preserving the beauty of Culpeper County. We have come together to support balanced growth, while preserving the department’s rich historical and agricultural heritage.

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On Tuesday, interested community members gathered at Old House Vineyards near Stevensburg to meet like-minded people and discuss their concerns. Over 50 people attended the two-hour “Culpeper Conversations”.

The rally was organized by the Brandy Station Foundation, Burgandine House, Friends of Culpeper Battlefields, Friends of Culpeper History, Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, Citizens for Responsible Solar, Culpeper Battlefield Tours LLC, Journey Through Hallowed Ground and Piedmont Environmental Council.

Culpeper County native Andrew Gutowski, one of the alliance’s founders, said residents and groups formed the alliance because they feared Culpeper officials were too focused on supporting people. big business, not on promoting a broad-based rural economy.

“The ad hoc zoning of farmland in Stevensburg for Amazon data centers demonstrates that county leaders are disregarding the wishes of Culpeper citizens and acting in a manner that corrodes Culpeper’s distinctive rural character,” said Gutowski at the Culpeper Star-Exponent. “The alliance supports the growth of agri-tourism and heritage tourism – key drivers of local job growth – and, at the same time, supports the development of data centers in designated technology areas across the county.”

On April 5, critics of Amazon’s development in Stevensburg were unable to persuade the county board of supervisors to reject the data services company’s proposal and direct it to build its project. of 445,000 square feet – the size of two Walmart Supercenters – in one of Culpeper’s technical areas. Now, a Brandy Station landowner is proposing three data centers covering nearly one million square feet in a technology area in the historic village, part of a battlefield study area.

Speakers at Tuesday’s meeting at Old House Vineyards, on another part of the Brandy Station battlefield, said there was a lot of commonality between economic development, parks, tourism and historic preservation.

Considering the overall county plan is key to generating more revenue through agritourism and heritage tourism while attracting more business and revenue through smart placement of industry, data centers and power plants solar cells, the alliance members said.

“What we have here is very fragile,” said historian and developer Gutowski. “We need to preserve the true beauty of Culpeper. We have to take care of it, day by day. Small changes can add up and change the character of our community.

Some types of development, according to the sites, “might not be the best for the community,” he said.

Gutowski urged creating a balanced economy that builds on Culpeper’s rural character, supports local businesses and strengthens the county’s hospitality and tourism industries. He noted that wineries, specialty farms, agritourism and rural bike trails already contribute significantly to local commerce.

He noted a recent opinion column in the Star-Exponent by Ed McMahon, Chairman Emeritus of Main Street America. The Town of Culpeper, operated by Culpeper Renaissance Inc., is part of the National Mainstreet System.

“The Main Street approach…works because it focuses on creating better places,” McMahon wrote. “It’s important because the link between the quality of place and the ability to attract and retain residents and talent is becoming increasingly clear.

“Most small communities will never attract the equivalent of an Amazon headquarters, and the strategy of pumping money into big business is simply unrealistic for most small towns and cities,” he continued. “A better, more realistic approach is to rebuild a strong downtown and invest in creating a great place.

“This approach helps existing businesses. This creates diverse and sustainable local economies,” McMahon wrote. “And that means taxpayers end up investing in themselves rather than subsidizing big business.”

Paige Read, director of economic development and tourism for the Town of Culpeper, said heritage tourism is Culpeper’s main economic driver, with 33% of visitors saying “history and heritage” was their main reason for visiting. over the past 12 months.

“Development and preservation are not mutually exclusive,” Read said. “We can seek balance.”

Culpeper County’s relatively large economy, with less than 55,000 residents, is dominated by small businesses built around consumers and the hospitality industry, with many women entrepreneurs, she said.

“We are very lucky to be able to build an economy on tourism and recreation” given that they don’t require big public spending on schools and other facilities, Read said.

Culpeper’s tourism sector will strengthen with the creation of Culpeper Battlefields State Park, recently approved by the Virginia General Assembly, she said.

Culpeper’s rural vistas, historic sites and cool restaurants already draw a steady stream of visitors from the DC area, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, the Carolinas, Ohio, Florida and Texas. , said Read.

“Now we’re going to have a new product to share with them, our new state park,” she said. The park, which includes preserved terrain at Culpeper’s Cedar Mountain and Brandy Station battlefields, is expected to open in 2024. It is also expected to improve access to recreation sites for local residents, Read noted.

The director of economic development said she recently met in Richmond with new leaders from the Youngkin administration who will help develop the park’s master plan.

“They’re excited to get started,” Read said.

“In a few years we will have Culpeper State Park and bring its stories and recreational access to anyone who is interested,” she said to applause.

The park will encourage visitors to stay longer and spend more money in Culpeper, Read said.

Friends of Culpeper Battlefields President Chuck Laudner said Culpeper County is “on the verge” of realizing its long-desired state park dream.

Local residents and the American Battlefield Trust “invested heavily in preserving small, separate pieces of sacred ground that were under threat or up for sale,” Laudner said. “After 30 years of this, Culpeper has an almost continuous and grand assembly. Take decades of work, put these parts together and you have something special.

“Or you can rezone something and have data centers at the base of Hansbrough’s Ridge, a National Historic Register site,” he said, alluding to Amazon’s plan to develop a horse farm in Stevensburg. “One benefits everyone, everyone. We don’t, and that’s what we’re up against. That’s why we are here.

Laudner, a Midwesterner who works for the American Battlefield Trust, admitted he was a transplant from Virginia.

“But I’m invested in Culpeper, invested in this idea that’s been building for years and years,” he said.

Six landowners who live adjacent to Amazon’s Stevensburg site are asking a court to overturn county supervisors’ rezoning of the Magnolia Equestrian Center plot for data centers.

Piedmont Environmental Council President Chris Miller noted that his regional group recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with an event at Clark’s Mountain in Orange County, overlooking Culpeper’s Rapidan River Valley.

This gathering celebrated decades of work by “thousands of families committed to conserving this beautiful place,” Miller said.

What happened at the Amazon site in Stevensburg on State Route 3, across from some of the land in Culpeper State Park, is part of a pattern that other counties in Northern Virginia are seeing. with data center developments, he said.

LLCs created by Amazon and others seek out the cheapest land in a county with access to power and fiber optic cable and have it rezoned, Miller said.

He said he hoped the new alliance could reach out to Google, Amazon and other tech giants, convey the threat some of their projects pose to national heritage and persuade them to change course.

The Wilderness Walmart controversy in eastern Orange County, which persuaded Walmart to move a Supercenter further west on Route 3 — away from the Wilderness battleground — is a precedent for that, Miller said.

“Let’s not give up, and let’s reach the decision makers,” he said. “Arguing with (Virginia development attorney) John Foote about this in court is just the first step.”

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