Citizens Support Conservation Easement

By: 
Kit Huffman

 

After nearly two hours of discussion, including public comments and questions from the Board, the Lexington Planning Commission suspended Thursday night’s meeting on a proposed conservation easement on Andrew McThenia’s 39-acre property overlooking the Maury. Discussion on the easement proposal will resume at the Commission’s next meeting on July 27.

City planning staff recommended against approving the requested conservation easement, as “not consistent with the Lexington Comprehensive Plan.” However, Commission Vice Chair Jonathan Tarris pointed out that some sections of the plan do, in fact, encourage conservations easements. Reading from the chapter on natural resources, he asked, “If we can’t put a conservation easement here, where would it apply?” City Council’s liaison member Patrick Rhamey replied, “I think this is where it applies.”

During the next two weeks, the Commission hopes to get more information about McThenia’s proposal, including a clear definition of how the property would be used if in a conservation easement. McThenia, who grew up in Lexington but currently lives in Florida, wrote in his application that his family “currently allows any and all fishermen, hikers and paddlers to access our river frontage [part of the property] and use the shoreline.” However, he pointed out, such open access would be restricted if the property were developed and fenced.

During the meeting, McThenia’s father, Uncas McThenia, presenting the application on behalf of his son, said he was certain his son would continue the public access if the property were put under conservation easement. The access path from Campbell Lane to the river would be open during daylight hours, with no vehicles allowed.

Several citizens spoke at the meeting, all in support of McThenia’s proposal. In addition, an email from Laura Thurman of the Virginia Outdoor Foundation stated that McThenia property “is one that VOF would definitely accept into its easement program.” Thurman pointed out that “the entire property is part of a conservation site, designated by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Division of Natural Heritage as the “Lexington Barrens and Bluffs.” The Maury River along this stretch is habitat for an endangered mussel and a rare plant called Three-Flower Melic Grass.

Speaking in favor of the conservation easement were Chris Wise, co-chair of the land use committee of Rockbridge Area Conservation Council; Lisa Tracy, secretary of the board of the Friends of the Chessie Trail; Ed Spencer, professor of geology emeritus, Washington and Lee University; Taylor Cole of Conservation Partners LLC of Lexington; and citizens Ellen Arthur, Sally Sebrell, George Huger, Henry Eichelberger and Elizabeth Daystar.

Daystar, a longtime next-door neighbor of the proposed conservation property, testified that the land had formerly been used as an informal (and unregulated) dump by the city in the 1980s, with all sorts of construction and other debris buried and then covered over and planted in grass. The dump site or sites could pose an environmental hazard if the land were developed.

A letter was entered into the record from an official of CornerStone Bank discussing the potential difficulties of financing a purchase of real estate that would require environmental remediation.

For more on this story see next week’s edition of The News-Gazette.

 

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