COVID, Urban Flight, and Rural Revival

by James A. Bacon

In announcing the creation of three new conservation easements in Henrico County, a recent press release from the Capital Region Land Conservancy made an eye-catching statement. The easements, said the Conservancy, act as a bulwark against rising pressure to develop agricultural land across Virginia “driven most recently by shifts in COVID-era lifestyles and soaring housing prices.”

This was the first time I recall anyone in Virginia making an explicit connection between the COVID epidemic, urban flight, and rising property values for agricultural land. The notion is worth exploring

The conversion of farmland into subdivisions is a long-standing concern. As the Conservancy notes, more than 339,000 acres of farmland were developed in Virginia between 2001 and 2016. In the Richmond region, more than 87,000 acres of farmland have been lost. By 2017 Henrico County had fewer than 100 farms and 10,000 acres of farmland.

The urban renaissance of the 2010s decade blunted the trend toward metropolitan sprawl. The center of gravity in development shifted back toward urban cores in Virginia and the U.S. generally. Now that momentum seems spent. Perhaps the COVID-19 epidemic is driving the reversal, but I suspect that the reality is more complex. It is also possible — consider it a  hypothesis — that after a year of protests, riots and rising violent crime rates in many cities, many urban dwellers, concerned about social breakdown, fear for their personal safety. The main thing holding them back is the paucity of rural broadband and connectivity. That barrier soon may fall.

COVID-19. The Virginia Department of Health provides a breakdown of COVID-19 cases by all Virginia localities — cases, hospitalizations and fatalities per 100,000 population. While it is true that COVID-19 first mushroomed in the major metropolitan areas, the virus has since spread everywhere, and the data shows that the impact in smaller towns and rural counties is every bit as severe now as in metro areas.

Indeed, the epidemic, as measured by the number of cases per 100,000 population, is most intense in non-metro settings:

Galax — 13,607 cases per 100,000
Richmond County — 10,699
Lexington — 9,501
Buena Vista — 9,187
Greensville — 9,005
Buckingham — 8,883
Harrisonburg — 8,754
Covington — 8,223

Contrast rural Richmond County to the urban City of Richmond with 4,475 cases per 100,000. Virginia’s other major population centers are in the same range as Richmond.

Loudoun — 3,757
Norfolk — 4,087
Arlington — 4,146
Fairfax — 4,211
Chesterfield — 4,214
Henrico — 4,304
Virginia Beach — 4,380

Not every rural locality is a COVID hotbed, however. Highland County, Virginia’s least populous county, has a case rate of only 2,670 per 100,000, with zero hospitalizations and zero deaths. But the larger point remains: Few small towns and rural communities are COVID-19 havens. I do have friends who have ridden out the epidemic in vacation homes with the thought that they were safer there. Early in the epidemic, they might have been. But such a perception cannot last long in the face of reality.

Home values. Skyrocketing housing values in major metropolitan areas are a plausible explanation of why many households would want to move, if they could, to communities with a lower cost of living. House values have always been higher in metro areas than non-metro areas. But that price gap was not sufficient in the past to spark an urban-to-rural migration. Is this time different?

It is helpful to look at the change in housing prices, not just absolute values. This map from Neighborhood Scout shows the appreciation in the market price of homes across Virginia, broken down by what I assume is zip code.

Neighborhood Scout does not specify the percentage increases for each color range or even the time period covered, so this data can be used to support only the most impressionistic of conclusions. Housing price increases have been strong across all of Northern Virginia, the urban core of the Richmond metro, and southern Hampton Roads. But prices have surged also in select, amenity-rich rural areas such as counties bordering the Chesapeake Bay (sailing country), counties in the northern Virginia piedmont and around Charlottesville (hunt/wine country), some areas bordering West Virginia (mountain country), and even parts of Southside (red clay country??).

Housing values reflect the way people vote with their feet and pocketbooks. Higher demand leads to higher prices. As this map shows, there is a lot of variability in “rural” Virginia. If we use the change in housing prices as an indicator,  we can see that amenity-rich localities are experiencing an increase in demand. People are buying weekend/vacation homes. Some are riding out the epidemic in those homes. But will they stay or will they return when the epidemic subsides?

The crime hypothesis. People share a stereotype of rural America as bucolic communities where people look after one another, residents can still leave their doors unlocked, and crime rates are low. The stereotype is accurate in some places, less accurate in others. Here’s the Neighborhood Scout map for relative crime rates, showing gradations between “safest” (light blue) and “most dangerous” (dark blue).

Yes, urban zip codes tend to be among the most dangerous, especially inner-city zip codes. Even some suburban localities — Henrico, Chesapeake, Chesterfield, Suffolk — aren’t so safe. But many non-metro areas are far from havens of tranquility. Look at Southwest Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley and Southside where deindustrialization and the opioid epidemic have ravaged communities.

On the other hand, the very safest zip codes from a crime perspective are almost all rural. And there appears to be considerable overlap between the safe zip codes and the high-amenity zip codes where housing prices are increasing. If a meaningful number of people is moving to safe, high-amenity rural areas, it is not unreasonable to postulate that safety is one of their motives.

I would conjecture that most of these people are retirees or owners of weekend/vacation homes. Advancing age makes people feel more physically vulnerable and risk averse. So far the migrants have not tended to be working-age people tethered by their jobs to the major metropolitan employment centers. Major constraints have been a reluctance by major employers to encourage work at home, and a lack of competitive rural broadband service even when telecommuting was an option.

Rural broadband. The COVID-19 epidemic has taught us that many of us can work effectively from home. The impact, however, has been limited mainly to metropolitan areas which have large concentrations of knowledge workers. The spotty nature of rural broadband has worked against a large-scale movement of working-age Virginians to rural areas.

Enter Elon Musk. The American with the nation’s second biggest ego (following you-know-who) is rolling out a low-earth-orbit satellite communications network, Starlink, capable of beaming broadband service into remote areas. Musk is notorious for his hype, so most people have taken his grandiose claims with a grain of salt. However, early reviews are highly positive. From the ZeroHedge blog:

Photos are starting to leak from SpaceX Starlink beta users, who are trying the satellite broadband service in remote areas for the first time. … One beta tester shared his experience on Reddit after he brought his Starlink equipment to a remote forest in Idaho. There, he said he was able to achieve 120Mbps download speeds and access the Internet at lightning-fast speed.

He wrote that the service “works beautifully.” He continued: “I did a real-time video call and some tests. My power supply is max 300w, and the drain for the whole system while active was around 116w.”

At his house, he said he got 135Mbps download speeds when the dish was at a ground-level spot with “limited obstruction.”

Over at, John Rubino explores the implications:

A pandemic causes your mayor to panic and lock down the city. There go the park, friends, and restaurants. And before the horror of this new normal has a chance to sink in, civil unrest explodes and turns your once-iconic neighborhood into a Mad Maxian war zone of burned-out cars and boarded up storefronts.

If it was just you, you might stick it out. But with a family, this life is now untenable. So you look into moving, preferably to somewhere semi-rural where neither a lockdown nor riots will ever be a problem and the kids can actually play outside. Maybe it’s time to indulge your fantasy of working remotely from a homestead in a gorgeous place.

But you immediately hit a technological speed bump: Broadband Internet, which up to this point had seemed both ubiquitous and a basic human right, isn’t available on the homesteads you now covet. The only option out there is low-tech, unreliable, molasses-slow satellite Internet that, if the reviews are to be believed, is worse than nothing at all.

StarLink isn’t as fast as urban gigabit fiber connection, says Rubino, “but it’s more than adequate for Zoom calls, shared coding projects and the like.” Rubino foresees fraying cities like New York and San Francisco emptying out, lurching towards bankruptcy and becoming even more unlivable. I’m not sure any Virginia cities are likely candidates for such dystopian scenarios, but their fiscal condition is worth watching.

The COVID-19 epidemic will subside eventually, and the lockdowns will be rolled back. But broadband is here to stay. And I’ll bet that civil unrest is, too. Those trends portend well for Virginia’s amenity-rich rural counties.

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61 responses to “COVID, Urban Flight, and Rural Revival

  1. Translated:

    The rich poor divide will explode geographically. As a result, the tax base of certain urban areas will experience steep decline, while the increasing demand for ever more social safety net expenses will explode in those same areas losing their tax base.

    Plus a host of other problems (financial, social, governmental, infrastructure, environmental) will arise in those former rural areas that now are subject to rapidly increasing residential, and commercial, and their collateral demands.

  2. I just don’t think one can call undeveloped land – farm land – and justify it being not developed because of that.

    Yes, older smaller farms will get incorporated into growing areas but there is still plenty of farmland across the country and most farms nowdays are essentially large businesses, million dollar and larger operations.

    An older farm of 50 acres is obsolete. They are not economically viable.

    “Preseving” them if they don’t have some significant values – like historic or culteral or recreational is not good.

    The Nature Conservancy – and others – will take donated land – and sell or develop the less significant land to generate the funds to acquire and save significant land.

    That’s the way it ought to work.

    Setting aside any land from development is misguided.

    It matters a lot what kind of land it is – what significance it has – and how it serves the public who pays for it.

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      “An older farm of 50 acres is obsolete. They are not economically viable.”

      Not true. A land use agreement with Fauquier will cut your property taxes in half if not more. Then sell the development rights to Piedmont Environmental Council to access tax credits.

      The 50 acre farm is a great way to hide and preserve wealth.

      • re; ” The 50 acre farm is a great way to hide and preserve wealth.”

        We do that in Spotsylvania also. It’s called a DEFERRAL of taxes and when and if it gets developed, all deferred taxes have to be paid. Developers use that tax category to buy land they think will be developed in the future and hold it until development overtakes it then develop it and pay the deferred taxes.

        Land that is permanently set aside – if it is accessible to the public as a park or such, then it’s good but land set aside in a developing area that eventually overtakes it – leaves it as a vacant property that, without management often becomes dump sites and ATV venues.

        Someone has to manage that land – and that takes resources.

        Setting it aside without resources to manage it does not really “save” it.

    • Funny you should pick 50 acres. If you can suffer a shaggy dog,…

      A long time ago — would’ve been 1978ish — while on travel, I was having dinner alone at the hotel restaurant when the hostess ask if I would accommodate a guest for dinner.

      I said, “Sure,” and few seconds later, she returned with an older gentleman, introducing him by name. He thanked her and he turned to the waitress saying, “To save time, I’ll have what he’s having.” As he sat down he said to me, “Eating alone is a ‘crime againt nature’.”

      So now you have the picture. Conversation eventually turned, as it always does, to occupation and this he told me:

      He had been in pharmaceutical sales and developed a plan. He bought only 40 acres in Jarrat to become a farmer, but then he didn’t farm.

      He signed up for the federal farm subsidy program that literally pays farmers “not to grow crops”, but the farm subsidy wouldn’t quite pay the mortgage and the cost of living, so… With his contract with the government firm in hand, he planted all 40 acres with weed.

      No, not that weed! Maypop. This classified the land as “fallow” and maximized his subsidy.

      “But how,” I asked, “does that turn a profit?”

      He explained. Maypop was used by A. H. Robbins in the manufacture of some drug. They sent the workers to harvest, load, and haul it away to Richmond, plus they gave him $250,000 to do it. He replanted. Two crops per year. This was his 3rd year.

      I always imagined him comfortably on a beach in Florida.

      So, done right, 50 acres could do it.

      • Mostly to NN, James, Jim B and MOM:

        The 50 acres was just an arbitrary number. I’ve lived on 5 acres for more than 40 years and the subdivision is said to have been a farm originally, of about 100 acres or so but probably long ago because all of it is now covered by second or third growth trees.

        There is an old “dump” on the property – which is down near a creek and brought back memories of my Grandfathers farm in Caroline county where they too had their own dump – no garbage pickup back then, no county landfill either! Your garbage was YOUR garbage!

        His farm was more than 100 acres in fields and trees. He and wife grew a variety of things for their family of 10 and livestock and tobacco to have a cash income for other things needed which including a huge hunk of baloney that was sliced was breakfast, eggs, cornbread and herring scooped from the creeks.

        He DID have a smokehouse and I remember the annual killing of the hogs with 22 rifles between their eyes… hauling them out and up on scaffold I never knew was for until the first time I saw it used. Dipped in scalding water to help removing hair then opening them up, etc… Helped with killing chickens for Sunday dinner… grab feet, hold neck on a wood round and whack and let it go for a second to avoid the gush of blood ….etc…

        That was the “farm”… It was more for self-preservation than for producing food for others. Many farms back then worked like that all around his farm. Many also had tobacco allotments for cash income. Few actually had the money for equipment needed to actually farm for a living.

        He’s long gone and the land belongs to someone else now but it’s still not a subdivision but not really a food-producing farm either.. Trees have taken off some of the fields… the others look more lke pasture now. I’m sure it is in land use to keep the taxes down.

        This is pretty much the way Spotsylvania looked way back when.

        There were a few dairy and cattle farms and some corn and soybeans grown.

        The Spotsylvania “Mule Shoe” Batltlefield was open farms at the time the war raged through there (3 farms sites) but after the war, when it was preserved, a lot of it reverted and became overgrown with trees.

        The Park Service decided that trying to explain and interprete that battle on open field farmland now covered with trees was not really possible so they cleared all the trees of the areas that used to be fields back to open fields. There was some blowback from folks who wanted to keep it “natural”, but the clearing went forward and the fields are now pretty much like they were the days the battles occurred.

        The Park Service is in a constant battle to keep these fields open since they are no longer farmed. Over the years, they have done bushogging and sometimes fires to clear them – keep them from retrning to forest. I don’t know their budget but seems like a lot of mowing and bushhogging so would not be surprised that runs into dollars. Last few years, they are outsourcing some of that work to contractors.

        The County of Spotsylvania played almost no role in trying to preserve battlefields – they willingly and wantonly rezoned it for homes and other and now homes and businesses sit on top of significant historic land – actual battlefields.

        The “problem” was/is that descendents owned inherited land , did not want to farm it and wanted to cash it in similar to what idiocracy was alluding to. The fact that it was “historic farmland” actually was considered an obstacle to selling the land for development!

        Private land – “farms”, historic land – the owners wanted the money and fews others stepped forward to buy and “preserve” enough of it. NPS was/is hated in the county, and lacked money to boot. The Battlefield Trust did save some of it but not even all of the mos significant land that now is subdivisions and shopping centers, 7-11s, and such.

        Some of the subdivisions and shopping centers did put up signs and deorative fences and story boards for their locations to signify the history at that site.

        What we have now and have had for a number of years is folks moving down from NoVa, buying a home “in the country” and then getting upset when that “farmland” next to them is sold for subdvisions just like what they bought! They come out in force to oppose the new subdivisions and the “save the farmand” words are used, and “save the forests” was used to fight the Spower Solar Farm – same folks, different subdivision.

        We did recently have a large older farm sold to the State to preserve called Oakley Farm.,_Virginia) and then the Sate bought part of it:

        Virginia buys part of Oakley Farm in Spotsylvania to create a 2,900-acre wildlife management area

        Right now, as far as I can tell, the State has no real plans for managing it – some of it is historic and some is old farmland.
        So I’ve seen land preserved. I’ve spent time advocating for it. I saw a road proposal go down because VDOT drew a line on a map, and would not alter it., rolled the dice, and lost. The people in the path of the road opposed it, the people who lived in other subdivisions wanted the road to make their commute easier.

        I’ve watched all of this and participated in the COMP Plan updates over the years.

        A lot of folks want to “save” “farmland” and historic land – but they don’t want to pay the property owners for it – they want the government to do it and as I said upthread, that’s where the discussion about the public purpose of using tax dollars for that purpose comes in.

        Even when the Battlefield Trust finds land they can obtain, the County is less than happy about it – they keep pointing out that they’re losing taxes and developable land. They are “property rights Conversatives, not liberals, They do not like the Fed or State government because they “interfere” with County business with rules and regulations like the Chesapeake Bay protection areas. The State made them build a new animnal shelter and require expensive upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant – and storm ponds for new development, etc, etc.

        Sorry to bore anyone with all of this. Mostly for James ………and in answer to NN about the 50 acres number.

        I’ve much been aware of land preservation including the pros and cons of “preserving farmland” that once “saved” is seldom used for farming anymore so I’ve come to the view that if it’s not farmland anymore .. probably not “saved”. I do prefer than such land be actually taken care of with a management plan and the public have access to it if tax dollars are used.

        I was directly involved river groups that succeeded in getting Scenic River Status for the Rappahannock River and the preservation of thousands of acres of riparian land that borders the river.

        Directly involved in an organization that worked with the American Battlefield Trust that preserved First Day of Chancellorsville site.

        I do have some knowledge of land preservation.

        • Unwad your panties, Larry. Mine was just an amusing story of a chance meeting 40 years ago. I’m sure it is OBE. I’m also sure that “a man with THAT plan” is hardly the norm in land use.

          Another amusing story, as heard on NPR some years back, that I could also relay involves Title Searches, especially in the original 13, but clearly you’re not in the mood, thus all else can take solace in that I’ll not tell it. Too bad, too. It took a great shot at a lawyer.

        • James Wyatt Whitehead V

          No offense taken Mr. Larry. I knew you were a country boy! I bet you still like fried boloney. I know a great deal about the land development near Spotsylvania County battlefields. Preservation was a constant source of discussion during my days as a ranger at Manassas National Battlefield. I remember the Civil War Trust and Bob McDonnell worked very well together in coming up with money to save historic land. I even remember McAuliffe doing the same for the Civil War Trust. Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park preserves 4 major battlefields and was created in 1927 by the War Department. In terms of acreage it is almost as large as Gettysburg and has the longest name of any national park in America.

  3. “Setting aside any land from development is misguided.”

    Larry, one again, demonstrates that his little more than an underinformed window licker, unable to see past his own misguided preconceptions regarding the value of “preservation” of rural areas based on some undefined matrix of their significance.

    Yes it is a complex issue but the “paucity of rural broadband and connectivity” is little more than a canard with respect to it being a barrier to migration into the rural areas. The greater issue is the price and availability of residential units in the “safe” rural areas, prices that are increasing and availability decreasing at rates virtually identical to those in the more urban, developed areas.

    As has been the case for several decades, at least in NOVA, development interests are funding and supporting concerted efforts to tear down protective barriers to high density development in the rural sector. Their rationale is by no means altruistic or out of concern for the safety of the urban masses, rather, it is function of absolute greed driven by the comparatively low price of greenfield development in the rural areas.

    Until recently, the liberal wing has largely ignored their efforts and more frequently pushed back on their efforts, understanding that every dollar spent on developing the rural areas necessitates increased spending on new schools, fire station, roads, sewer and other infrastructure in those areas. That increased spending of public dollars in the rural areas effectively eliminates what money was available to address the crumbling schools and infrastructure in the developed area, no jurisdiction can afford to do both without raising the raising local taxes to a level that would make the Swedish blush.

    Circumstances are now turning for the worse, at least for those with some semblance of fiscal sanity. Those same liberals who previously resisted increased rural development are now pushing, and pushing hard, to pave over the rural areas.

    Their rationale, and one that has been made quite clear in statements by Prince William County democrats, everyone, regardless of means is entitled to live in every neighborhood. Thus efforts to rationalize the construction of townhouses and apartments next door to developments with minimum ten acre lots and their push (particularly in Arlington) to eliminate residential zoning.

    Jim, if they have your way, you can forget your premise of fleeing the crime-ridden urban areas for the “bucolic communities” in the rural area as their development strategy will leave no where to flee to.

    • Attacking LarryG’s arguments is like shooting fish in a barrel. You are welcome to do so all day long. I will enjoy looking on. Likewise, your comment is thought provoking and well worth reading. The developers are likely three steps ahead of the rest of us in seeing the potential of high-amenity rural localities and up to their usual habit of shifting costs to others.

      But this kind of rhetoric — “Larry, one again, demonstrates that [he is] little more than an underinformed window licker” — adds nothing to the conversation.

      Attack the argument, not the man.

      • I would love to comply however, it is becoming increasingly apparent that when dealing with Larry, one is dealing with a child. I have had less frustrating and more fruitful discussions with three year olds than with him.

        • That’s just more personal attacks. You know it and so does Jim.

          I don’t know where you idiots get off talking like this but it says much more about you than I.

          If you don’t like or agree what someone else says -and can’t respond without a personal attack, shame on you.

        • If you think that Larry is a child, why not try behaving like an adult? The last time I checked, adults don’t normally engage with children by insulting them.

          • Yep, but not in BR. There are several who cannot manage to behave like adults. They get “frustrated” and so they are justified apparently.

            BR is their playpen sometimes. It is what it is.

      • I’m not sure what gives with these idiots who can’t seem to respond without a personal attack these days. Adults? Pigs? geeze?

        We DO have significant Civil War Battlefields in Spotsylvania. The land was purchased a long time ago because even then, they had great historic significance but it was critical to target the land. It had to be significant historic land because there was just not enough money to buy any/all.

        Today, especially in the winter, one can see that they bought mere narrow strips of land and now that adjacent land actually has been developed into high dollar homes with parkland as their backyards.

        People ask why that happened. The simple answer is that there was simply not enough money to buy all the historic land – and indeed many of the “unsaved” historic battlefields are now subdivisions, roads, schools, etc. We have residential homes in the middle of battlefields. We have commercial properties sitting on land that bulldozed the trenches. Roads that go right through battlefields.

        A lot of our battlefields have been lost to development despite a lot of efforts to “save” it – we could not save it all. We saved some.

        But land to be saved needs to have value and serve a legitimate purpose to the public if tax dollars – including lowered taxes are going to be spent on it.

        It can’t be just to prevent land across the street from being developed.

        That’s misguided and really a misuse of everyone elses tax dollars who won’t benefit from that land being “saved”.

        If you go out into the boondocks of Virginia, there are millions and millions of acres of land that someone owns and pays taxes on it.

        Using tax dollars to “save it” without any real benefit is, again, misguided.

        Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the Nature Conservancy or Battleifeld Trust or even the National Park Service.

        The Battlefield Trust only wants your land that is not historic if they can sell it and use that money to buy land that is significant and historic that is in danger of being lost.

        If you have land and you really want to help land preservation – donate your land to be sold and provide the funds to buy land that actually does deserve to be saved.

        • Larry, you would make a much stronger case that insults against you are uncalled for… if you refrained from insults yourself. Calling Mom an “idiot” does nothing for your case. You should have quit while you were ahead.

          • Jim. Mom’s insult was first and and I responded in kind and only then after he did it twice. That’s the way it happens here. I never initiate the insult/attack. MOM just came out of nowhere and did it and then you call me for returning the favor. What do you want to happen when someone starts it? Do you want the person they target to just accept it without retort?

            You stand by and watch this happen and then step in when the person who is attacked returns the attack.

            Come on.. Why is MOM allowed to do that and when you call him on it, he blows you off by further insults to me?

            This is really stupid. THe folks that do this lack some common courtesy and basic adult behavior.

            BUt if they are going to engage in it – and you are going to let them not sure what you expect?

          • Just want to point out here that they have this problem in FB and even on WaPo and other papers that comment.

            And they deal with it by doing a warning. Deleting the comment. Closing the thread. Then suspending or banning from the group.

            Some groups have a zero tolerance. Do it and you’re gone.

            Others let you go, give a warning, if you don’t heed it , you’re gone.

            This is not about me. I’m sure you’ve seen more and more of this here – and the folks that do it are emboldened because they see you doing not a whole lot about it and when you do, you lecture the guy who responded to the attack!

            Even Dick has been attacked here of late.

        • The problem is you continue to conflate preservation of historic or environmentally sensitive property with the original premise of the post, namely, the conversion of farmland into subdivisions. Although there is some commonality to the two issues, there are also significant differences.

          I don’t believe anybody has argued that any locality, non profit, land bank, Federal or State agency has the requite funds either individually or collectively to obtain that property outright or even the development rights to it.

          The issue at hand is the development of what you deem agriculturally zoned farmland without significance. What you miss is that such undeveloped or “underdeveloped” land does have great significance with respect to the pressure it does or more appropriately doesn’t exert on the jurisdictions budget and infrastructure requirements.

          The opportunity to purchase the property or development rights through PDR or TDR programs are not the only methods by which local jurisdictions can control development in the rural area, in fact, they are likely the most expensive and least exercised options. Rather, jurisdictions typically control development in such areas through zoning and the long range land use chapter of the Comprehensive Plan, a concept you have chosen to ignore or of which you are ignorant.

          I have been involved in what has been a endless no quarter asked or given knife fight with respect to that premise for decades. I have a keen understanding of the pressure exerted by development interests and the fiscal impact on a jurisdiction that results from unfettered greenfield development of the rural areas.

          I would think that you of all people would have applied the equity lens to the problem. I guess you have yet to understand that allowing higher density housing in the rural area, even if couched in terms of providing affordable housing where the rich folk live, generally places an extraordinary burden on the locality and even the State to provide extensive and expensive new infrastructure to support it. All those new houses have children that require schoolrooms (physical or virtual), sewer and water as a wells and septic fields can not serve townhouse developments, improved and new roads to get them to the already overcrowded main roads so they can get to work, new fire stations, etc., etc. etc.

          The losers in that scenario, those trapped in or unable to afford moving from those developed areas in the jurisdiction suffering from crumbling schools, insufficient transportation, decaying roads and aging infrastructure. The new development effectively precludes addressing the problems and deficiencies in those previously developed portions of the jurisdiction. Prince William is the poster child for that failed strategy.

          Demographics and our “leaders” point out that those in the loser column are principally our underprivileged black and brown brothers, but I guess in this instance you don’t care and would prefer that their tax dollars be used to fund the cost of those that escaped rather than their own school and infrastructure issues.

          It is not that hard a concept to grasp.

          • Mom – you may or may not realize, we have been dealing with these same issues down in Spotsylvania and Stafford for some time now.

            I “realize” far more than you seem to know.

            Both counties have tried hard to focus development where there are urban services but NoVa commuters often want to live further out in the country – well and septic and there is so much rural that “saving it” means one or two parcels not huge parcels.

            We have rural subdivisions – 5 acre lots , well/septic – they are all cut from former farmland and forest – just like western Prince Willaim I suspect.

            TDRs, PDRs only work for as much urban services land you have. Great swaths of other rural land remain and quite a bit of it is in “land use” which is tax deferred. If it is ever developed, the back taxes are due.

            But I’ll not go on – I’be been involved for 30 years and though we have some different views there was no need to engage in a personal attack.

            You should apologize.

  4. Four words: Virginia Beach Green Line. Hint: not a bus route.

  5. I live on a corner lot in Prince William County very close to the unofficial “Stafford County Parkway” (so named because it’s full of commuter traffic to/from Stafford seeking to avoid I95).

    If, at some later date, a developer wants to buy my property and put a Taco Bell next to a check cashing place next to a day labor camp next to a used car lot, well, money talks. And I walk.

    Any sort of altruism that would have stopped me from doing that does, I’m sorry to say, no longer exist.

  6. In 1960, there were about 14,000 folks living in Spotsylvania which was a very rural county just outside of Fredericksburg with many real farms…

    Most non-farm folks worked in Fredericksburg and surrounding but some commuted to Quantico and Belvoir on Route 1 for good paying jobs.

    In 1963, I-95 was completed through Fredericksburg and that changed everything even though few except developers realized it at the time.

    Prince William was 50,000 folks. By 2000, they had 280,000 and Spotsylvania had 90,000.. Spotsylvania basically followed in Prince Williams footsteps in terms of population growth.

    We are just at different points on the development continuum.

    Prince William had something called the Urban Crescent I believe and Spotsylvania called ours the PDB – primary development boundary which pretty much meant the limts of water/sewer.

    Spotsy had an explosion of rural subdivisions , many were larger than an acre because the land would not perk very well, but the roads were often dirt, not paved and not to state standards. Later the county put limits on how many lots per acre and required roads to state standards, in an effort to limit rural growth and focus it to where there were urban services but rural development has continued… just bigger and more expensive homes!

    Today, we are about 130,000, and Prince William close to 500,000.

    Stafford sits between us and right now today, is still also struggling with trying to limit residential development in it’s western rural areas but
    the demand for that kind of land has not abated.

    Both commuters and retirees. People sell their homes in NoVa for big bucks and can easily afford 5-10 acres with a fine house on it. People who make 100K in NoVa can live like kings in rural counties… as James knows.

    We now have “hobby” farms… mostly horse but some alpaca and such.

    Lake Anna is big “resort”, but still no water/sewer but a lot of marinas!

    And we have more than a few Taco Bells… where we do have water/sewer.

    I’ve been here since 1960 and watched the growth, participated in several comp plan updates, sit on a transportation comittee and a few other things.

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      You mean you have been in Spotsylvania County since 1960 and you did not know who Major General John Sedgwick was? I like your county Mr. Larry. It was a rich and unique history. They need another bridge across the Rappahannock.

      • James, there have been quite a few generals in Spotsylvania and surrounding and I was familiar with their names but not in detail and no student of the Civil War as you seem to be. They ARE building new bridges over the river at I-95. Do you mean up river?

        • James Wyatt Whitehead V

          Yes Mr. Larry a new bridge and I 95 bypass west of Fredericksburg. Probably too late for that now. Closing the Chatham bridge really has screwed up that town. Just wait until they start rebuilding the Rt 1 bridge.

          • Yes, still fry baloney and eggs! I forgot you had been an NPS Ranger ! So you should know the story of the Outer Connector and NPS and Scenic River Status and et al?

            There are existing bridge crossings right now at Kelly’s Ford and Ely’s Ford.. I’m sure you know.

          • James Wyatt Whitehead V

            Shhh! Mr. Larry. Do not tell the world about the best back door route to Fredericksburg. Remington, to Kellys Ford, to Ely’s Ford and then to Chancellorsville. Secrecy was the key to Stonewall Jackson’s success.

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      The first developer of Spotsylvania County was Alexander Spotswood. He built the Enchanted Castle over by Flat Run. It was the largest building in colonial Virginia. Even bigger than Williamsburg’s Governors Palace.

      • Yep. Spotswood was apparently a fine fellow and a historic figure even beyond the county.

        To fill you in, The School Board has teed up the possible renaming of R.E. Lee elementary school that is right at the Courthouse. Two public hearings and some opposition on the school board announced.

      • Spotswwod privately hired an expedition to sail to North Carolina and kill or capture Blackbeard. On November 22, 1718 Blackbeard and his men were defeated by the expedition and Blackbeard was killed. Two days after Blackbeard’s death Spotswood issued a proclamation in the General Assembly creating a reward for whomever brought Blackbeard to justice. The Virginia Way has deep roots.

        If you visit the Outer Banks of North Carolina today and find those places off the tourist path a drink might as often be celebrated by “Death to Spotswood” as as “Cheers”. In fact, there are some people and places in Virginia today where you might hear “Death to Spotswood” prior to a gulp of beer or downing of a shot.

  7. You get your money’s worth and more! He was also involved in the River issue from a preserving history perspective.

    I also walk these cliffs along the river where there are civil war trenches, and related, not signed and as far as I know, not specifically protected beyond the fact they sit on Conservation land – which some think precludes a new highway. That Conservation easement pretty much goes upriver 26 miles except of two small gaps.

    • I’ve seen that place many times, always while parked on the I-95 bridge.

      Sadly, I now turn right onto US 301 from Rte. 17 and head to the Potomac River Bridge with a guaranteed 30 minutes longer trip rather than risk a highly likely crawl from Fredericksburg.

      • Doesn’t help that V-dumb is taking a year to replace the Chatham bridge in Fredericksburg.

        I imagine that includes 6 months for potty-training the workers.

        • I thought VDOT was doing pretty good.. word is they might finishe early. Keep in mind that VDOT does do the work. It’s contracted out.

          They also are adding new bridges to I-95 over the river upstream.

          The Route 1 bridge may be next and if you thought Chatham screwed up traffic, you ain’t seen nothin yet as they say.

          • Problem is, many years ago, they decided that since they just got a new, Federally-funded river bridge when I95 was built, they didn’t need to crack open the state’s wallet to build or upgrade any existing bridges to handle local traffic.

            Which is why a significant chunk of traffic on I95 there is local traffic.

            Interstates should not be handling local traffic.

            Even though that might be cheaper for the state.

          • The new I-95 bridges over the Rappahannock are actually one of the options in the original river crossing proposal – and they are also what is known as CD lanes – so dedicated lanes for mainline through traffic and separate dedicated lanes for local traffic.

            They’re having a hell of a time down at river level – we keep getting rain that we normally don’t get, the river comes up and knocks down their rock causeways and they start over.

            Here’s a link to their web cam overlooking the site:

            scroll down


          • Yes, most major interchanges have CD lanes. Even not so major ones like Nutley St and I66 in Vienna.

            Kinda makes you wonder why Route 3 and I95 never got them.

          • re: most interchanges – in NoVa… not the rest of I-95 which is mostly cloverleafs and diamonds… etc..

            Rt 3 will likely be next. What they got there right now , I think, is temporary.

            There just is not enough money to do all these things and that’s one reason they advocated for an increase in gas taxes.

            These things cost 40, 50, 100 million dollars. Think about how many people buying gasoilne and paying taxes on it would take to generate that knid of money…

            Making CD lanes on Route 3 is going to use up all available right-of-way right up to existing commercial, and may require the taking of commercial properties …..

          • A CD lane on each side just for the route 3 / I95 interchange (like what there is for the US17/I95 interchange now) would have helped and should have been done back in 1985 when the highway was widened to 6 lanes. It would have been a lot cheaper to do it back then, too.

            And I’m NOT talking about a CD lane on route 3. But on I95.

          • No, I mispoke .. I was referring to CD on I-95 at route 3.

            the woulda/shoulda/coulda is rampant with highways and roads.

            It takes almost 10 years for a major road improvement to go from paper the dirt these days.

            Some of our “plans” are now for 2030.

            and the argument continues – does widening roads attrack more traffic ? The more you improve, the more folks drive…???

          • Not exactly, the more improve, the greater capacity your create or the more your diminish existing congestion, allowing for our elected idiots to approve even more residential density that will put us further behind than that the conditions the improvements were designed to address.

          • Maybe some chicken/egg. You make it easier to commute from Spotsy to Nova – guess what happens?

            Spotsy cannot deny property sales and development to respond to demand – even though it uses road and school capacity.

            People do need a place to live – the question is where?

    • So James, knowing what you know now about the river, and the historic sites , conservation easement, and the road proposal.

      what do you think?

      Do you think land for 26 miles should be preserved againt all manmade facilities or that almost all the land that borders the river is farmland, etc..

      tough question, right?

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        I think that conservation easement on the Rappahannock goes much further than you think. My understanding of the easement is from the boat dock in downtown Fredericksburg all the way up the Rappahannock just past the 211 bridge in Fauquier. It ends at a place called Waterloo. City of Fredericskburg owned the rights to a canal. This dates back to the days of Henry Clay’s American System in the 1830s. The conservation efforts have helped the Rappahannock maintain it’s status as the cleanest river in the state. Some say the east coast.

        • Maybe …. I just posted that map for what Fredericksburg owns. I do believe another easement owned by other has also been put in place.

          It’s clean but has a lot of sedmiment runoff and nutrients…There are even cleaner rivers on the East Coast. We’ve paddled many rivers on the East Coast over the last 30-40 years.

          So the question about the very long Conservation easement and what some say is a serious need for a modern bridge to piece that easement?

          Have you ever walked below an I-95 bridge and heard the noise ?

          • James Wyatt Whitehead V

            The dismantling of the Embry Dam released 2 centuries worth of sediment downstream. You ought to paddle from Remington, thru the rock garden above Kelly’s Ford, camp at the Richardsville camp ground, go past the confluence, and all the way to town. 54 miles. It can be done in 2 days if you are in good shape. Best small mouth bass fly fishing I have ever seen.

          • James, I’ve only paddled that stretch a couple of dozen times. It’s a special river and the idea of a I-95 bridge in the middle is
            disturbing. If they can do a bridge and not have the noise, it could be like a powerline or similar.

            The fight centered over the least bad place to cross and VDOT (of that era) was not having it. They tried to force it and the opposition beat them. Today’s VDOT is different. They actually changed the way they do potential constroverial projects as a result of their failure to do that project.

            But is also why I say that just “saving land” may not always be a right thing to do … no matter where you’d put that new road, it would eat up farmland… and if everyone put their farm into a Conservations easement to block a road or a powerline or a pipeline? …

            I ask – often – what’s the middle ground?

  8. Where is Ed Risse when you need him? Rural = a core confusing word. What does it mean? Developers are going to build thousand home subdivisions in Highland County? I doubt it – internet or not.

    People from the cities, suburbs and exurbs generally don’t want to live in what some would call “the middle of nowhere”. Even Oliver Wendall Douglass and his wife Lisa moved from New York City to Hooterville rather than an isolated farm. I think we should be talking more about Roanoke than truly isolated rural areas.

    As a second point, I wonder if any of the COVID-19 disruptions will still be evident 10 years from now. I’m not taking a position on that question – just saying that I wonder about all the prognosticators that are sure society has now been changed forever. Of course, they draw eyeballs from such prognostications. Saying that things will return to pre-COVID normal just doesn’t garner much attention. However, I’ll predict (with a 75% certainty) that 90+% of all the change brought about by COVID will be reversed by 2030. People are forever trying to extrapolate “one off” events into perennial trends.

    In the aftermath of 9/11 Richard Clarke wrote an article in The Atlantic about how the world would be different 10 years after 9/11 (because of 9/11). The article came out in 2004 so he gave himself a little leeway to see how things were going. Here is the retrospective …

    The more concrete the prediction the less accurate, in my opinion.

    • What do you think will happen to rural development once they bring broadband to it?

      “middle of nowhere” with a good internet connection…

      It’s not for everyone but I can tell you Spotsylvania’s rural land is already pretty pockmarked with NoVa Style homes on 3, 5, 10 acre lots.

      Make broadband available and the stampede will be on and the folks already living there and wanting the broadband – they’re going to get a lot more company.

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