Five years ago, members of the Friends of Bryan Park were facing the seeming inevitability of development of the Shirley subdivision in Henrico County adjacent to the forested section of the park near the Nature Center and Environmental Education Area.
In 1924, the land had been divided into fourteen lots as part of the Shirley subdivision, but had remained mostly undisturbed through the decades. Suddenly, in 2012, a development proposal would have built 40 modular houses on roughly 6.5 acres, clear-cutting the forest there and creating a highly dense neighborhood tucked into a dead end. John and Bucci Zeugner, and many Friends of Bryan Park were determined to change the property’s fate. Today their vision became a reality with the recording of a conservation easement on the land they bought to permanently protect.
The Capital Region Land Conservancy and the Henricopolis Soil and Water Conservation District co-hold the easement. CRLC will provide ongoing stewardship with annual monitoring visits. Mr. and Mrs. Zeugner, as the property’s owners, retain all rights of ownership except those expressly prohibited by the easement, primarily residential development and industrial or commercial uses.
“Easements in urban and suburban areas are uniquely challenging and the Zeugners have dedicated years of effort to creating this legacy. Their determination to protect a treasured City Park and actually add to it is an inspiration,” said CRLC Land Conservation Manager Jane Myers.
Under Virginia’s Conservation Easement Act, a conservation easement is a voluntary act of the property owner and must be compatible with the locality’s comprehensive plan. Henrico County’s 2026 Comprehensive Plan lists as an objective the identification and protection of “areas with intrinsic natural, historical, or cultural resources” and encourages “protection of natural and historic resources by the private sector.” It also “encourages the preservation of private open space by supporting the use of conservation and open space easements.”
The 6.5 acres of undeveloped land, now permanently protected by a conservation easement, drains into Upham Brook, a tributary of the Chickahominy River listed as “impaired” by Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality. “Maintaining the stands of mature, mixed hardwood trees and understory can only help Upham Brook,” noted HSWCD director Nicole Anderson-Ellis. “Nothing is better for water quality than forested buffers around our streams.”
Furthermore, the 6.5-acre parcel provides a 600-foot wide buffer zone along a 500-foot long portion of the northwestern boundary of Joseph Bryan Park which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This important forested buffer will ensure that wildlife currently in the park will maintain its habitat without the threat of encroachment.
Since 1994, Friends of Bryan Park has committed to the preservation and improvement of Joseph Bryan Park for use as a public park for all citizens. Belle Stewart Bryan and her sons purchased the 262-acre “Rosewood” farm and donated it to the City of Richmond as a memorial park to her late husband. Reflecting the “City Beautiful” movement and the “rustic aesthetic” of the National Park Service, Joseph Bryan Park established “a naturalistic landscape that afforded visitors a retreat from the City.” (City Annual Report, 1918).