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Ferry Farm to expand, seek zoning change

October 7, 2012 12:10 am



Ferry Farm, where George Washington spent his childhood, could soon expand its offerings to visitors with a reconstruction of the boyhood home.

That would be possible under a new zoning designation for the southern Stafford attraction.

On Wednesday, the Stafford County Planning Commission will take up the rezoning of the 107-acre property to be designated as a Heritage Interpretation Zoning District. Currently, about half the land is zoned for agricultural use, and the other half is for urban commercial.

A public hearing begins at 6:30 p.m., under the Planning Commission's new bylaws. Public hearings used to start at 7:30 p.m.

The county is applying for the rezoning on behalf of the George Washington Foundation, which runs Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore Plantation in Fredericksburg. The application was first authorized by the Board of Supervisors in 2008.

George Washington lived in the family's home at Ferry Farm along the Rappahannock River from when he was 6 years old until he was 20.

All that's left of that house was uncovered in an archaeological dig.

Ferry Farm, off State Route 3, is designated as a National Historic Landmark.

"We believe this proposal will help achieve the goals of the foundation, and many others, to better commemorate and interpret George Washington and his family," said William Garner, president of the George Washington Foundation. "We look forward to the economic impacts this project will bring to the Fredericksburg area and Stafford County."

Ferry Farm has had several owners over the years since the Washington family sold it in 1774. In the 1990s, part of the land was zoned for commercial use.

A proposal by Walmart to build a store on that property was met with fierce opposition from residents and historic preservationists from around the nation. The store instead was built further east on Route 3.

Under ownership of the foundation, about 16,000 people visit the site every year. They can tour a visitor center and archaeology lab, along with gardens.

In 2008, the county adopted a Heritage Interpretation Zoning District for preservation, restoration and education related to historic sites.

Along with a reconstruction of the Washington home, the foundation outlined plans for a new visitor center, a separate administration building, a maintenance building and a greenhouse, according to county documents. There may also be trails and period farming areas.

The long-term plan, however, doesn't fit with the present zoning. Any construction would also have been required to be up to 21st-century standards, which could have presented problems with planned mid-1700s reconstruction, said county Planning & Zoning Director Jeff Harvey.

The site would focus on a replication of the Washington home, showing what life was like when he grew up along the Rappahannock. The reconstruction would be the first phase of construction.

In the future, the foundation hopes to replicate the ferry crossing of the river, which is how the farm got its name.

A new entrance would be built at the Route 3/Ferry Road intersection.

A study of the historic site showed that the number of visitors could dramatically increase at buildout, with nearly 16,000 people per month, and 113,000 annually.

A second study indicates that the economic impact of Ferry Farm would also increase after the expansion.

Eventually, the Stafford attraction may be the endpoint on a pedestrian and bicycle trail that runs along the southern part of the county, connecting Ferry Farm to the Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont.

The National Park Service holds an easement over Ferry Farm that prevents development except for what may be related to being a historic site, said John Hennessy, chief historian of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

The Park Service has no issues with the rezoning request.

"The easement and the foundation's good ideas will govern the interpretive development of the property going forward," Hennessy said.

Staff reporter Clint Schemmer contributed to this story.

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975


Urban development areas will be the subject of a work session before Wednesday's Planning Commission meeting.

UDAs had been mandated by the state for areas with projected high population growth, but then this year, they were made optional.

That has put Stafford in a tough spot. Seven areas had been marked to be mixed-use developments with a "live-work-play" atmosphere. But little has been done aside from initial planning for a pilot program in the Courthouse UDA.

In June, the Board of Supervisors asked the Planning Commission to take another look at the UDAs. The Planning Commission hoped to look at population projections, but current information is not yet available.

The Planning Commission must have some sort of recommendation regarding UDAs to the board by Jan. 3. That gives them five meetings to work on the program as a seven-member group.

The work session will be held Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.

--Katie Thisdell

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