Loudoun County will continue a moratorium on valuing some “open space” parcels of land at a lower rate than other properties, much to the disapproval of the Board of Supervisors' representatives from the rural western portion of the county.
Following debate during its Jan. 15 meeting, a split Board of Supervisors voted 5-3 to continue the six-years-old moratorium. Opposing the measure was Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) and supervisors Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge) and Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin). Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) was absent for the vote.
Explaining his vote to keep the moratorium, Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-At Large) said he can't justify giving rural lands a tax break when other parts of the county aren't awarded the same opportunity. The board's finance committee, which Buona chairs, has studied the issue in recent months.
“What we're doing is really kind of just giving a tax exemption,” Mr. Buona said. “I have supported almost everything in the rural economy – I've supported the rural business strategy, I've voted for more FTEs and more money for the rural economy … This is one I just have kind of a fundamental, principled difference with.”
The tax reduction materializes by the county assessing the open land only for it's current use, rather than factoring in value of development rights.
The primary benefit of open space valuation is the preservation and promotion of the rural economy, said Mr. Higgins.
“This issue is about preventing development on open space parcels. It also encourages rural economic development,” he said.
The board's decision to continue the moratorium went against the recommendation of Commissioner of Revenue Bob Wertz.
Mr. Wertz's office estimated there are approximately 3,200 parcels located in the Blue Ridge, Catoctin and Leesburg districts that range from 5-19.99 acres – land size eligible for the reduced valuation – that aren't being assessed at the open space value because of the moratorium. Roughly 2,500 of the parcels have homes on them, according to Loudoun County staff; the homes on the open space properties are still assessed at standard value.
Additional requirements for the prospective lower-valued land are in place through county policy – though as long as the moratorium is in place those requirements aren't essential.
Lifting the moratorium would decrease county revenue, though an exact amount is a challenge to calculate. Estimates amounted up to $4.5 million, according to county staff.
A substitute motion to move the issue to the board's land use committee, offered by Mr. Higgins, failed on a 4-4 vote.