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Supervisors to continue moratorium on ‘open space’ land valuation

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.

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You’re welcome oranges.  The “open space” deferral issue suffers from that crossing of the ag district minimums with development minimums, and the further confusion that being in an ag DISTRICT does not automaticlly grant an ag DEFERRAL.

This is where Right Honorable potentially sidetracks:  RH says that on a “10.3 acre parcel, we could fashion 15 or so 2/3 acre lots”.

Well, it really depends on where on the zoning map that 10 ac is located.

If it is in an area that grants one home per acre, then 10 lots.  2 per ac, 20 lots.  Transitional five ac zoning, 2 lots.  Trans 10 ac, it already has the one house it’s entitled to.

If it is in AR1 or AR2 in the rural policy area, it is lucky to have the house it already has, since the minimum required to build or exercise any approved subdivision in AR1 is 20 ac, and 40 in AR2.

If it is in TR-10 or above, it isn’t “protecting” us from anything, because it can’t develop beyond its existing use.

We are a Right to Farm state as well as a By Right building state, and that’s where we get some of the low bars for ag deferrals.

But the people who got rezoned to 20 and 40 acre base density never got a hearing on the takings issue when the Comp Plan revision was thrown out in court;  the process was so flawed it got voided ab initio, and the takings issues were never even addressed.

A lot of people were ZONED “open space”, and that plan that was thrown out rendered 11K+ existing parcels “nonconforming” out of 13K parcels in the rural area.  Some of that was addressed through grandfathering in the subsequent adopted plan, but the minimum to develop is still 20 and 40 in the rural area.

I can understand wanting the deferral based on the zoning changes that were enacted on a lot of people without their approval, but then the county shouldn’t grant and justify it as “providing open space” VOLUNTARILY, which is what the deferral is supposed to be for.

@ Drew…none of those things you mention are county services

Westerners already go without services….

No paved roads, no broadband Internet access, no slow plowing or sanding.

oranges, let me try to explain something to you…

you said

“...looked up one 10.3 acre parcel and the taxes were $5235. Does that seem really low to anyone. We pay $3700 here in Sterling for a 2/3’s acre home?”

Let’s see now, in a 10.3 acre parcel, we could fashion 15 or so 2/3 acre lots.  Don’t you suppose 15 lots would impose many more expenses on the county for schools, fire, etc…compared to one family sitting on a 10 acre parcel?  Yeah, I agree.

That’s why you pay more taxes per square foot on small lots than on larger ones.

Thanks Barbara, I had to read you answer twice. Ithaca manor is the questioned property I used in my example. I think I’ll take a look at the outer buildings and see if I am missing anything?

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Barbara Munsey is correct. We should not continue this subsidy. Additionally, I believe we need to tighten the rdgulations for property tax relief both personal and real estate.  Current limits seem way to liberal to me.

Yes Orange, that does seem low. I pay about the same for about an 1/8th of an acre. Cut the westerners loose and let them pay their own way or go without services.

oranges, it’s complicated.  Plenty of landowners in all areas of the county pay on full assessed value.

The “open space” deferral is allowed under VA law as being in furtherance of our Comp Plan, which “protects open space”.  The theory is, that someone who has the ability to develop their property (i.e. has enough land to subdivide under our ordinances) chooses NOT to take advantage of that option, and therefore gets a tax deferral for not using that development right.

The rub comes when, with the best of intentions, it has been determined that any land seeking open space deferral must be in an agricultural district, which, while it does NOT require that the land be actually farmed, it DOES certify that the land is maintained in good condition, and DOES NOT automatically grant a tax break simply by being so-certified.

I don’t have a problem with that!

However, the minimum acreage to be in an ag district is 5 acres, and the minimum acreage to subdivide in the rural policy area under our Comp Plan is 20 acres.

So good on the landowner under 20 ac who keeps their land in good condition, suitable for farming, whether they’re farming or not.

But an “open space deferral” is to reward someone for not DEVELOPING their property.

And if the property has no development rights beyond the home that is on it, they’re not giving up development rights to provide “open space”.

So yes, you could probably even find bigger parcels that pay full assessed value (if that is the full assessed on the 10 ac you looked up—is there a land use deferral on it for ag?  They may not be getting open space, but may be getting an ag one for something else, and that where we get into a steer, or goats x X, and so on).

And you would also find much bigger ones that pay far far less than assessed value, and maybe even less than the lot you cite in Sterling.  I know of one person who pays $200 on 20 ac, that they do the minimum with to get the ag deferral.  I know of another who pays about one eighth of their assessed value of over $8M, because they have a large organic operation on which they have been quoted in the press as being able to sustain its million-per-year business loss “indefinitely”.  They may earn their ag deferral through the large hobby operation, but should I really have found them on the federal farm subsidy list too?

Way back in 2007, over $3B in assessed value was deferred for taxation in the county.  Don’t know what it is now, but if the open space deferral hinges on abjuring development rights and there are none on a parcel in question, it would seem to be counterintuitive to defer based on that.

The amount of Farms in the West are few and far between. Those out west with land are just holding on and waiting for a developer to call with a paycheck. In the mean time, they want to pay zero taxes until that payday arrives. Otherwise they might actually have to work the land or sell the farm early.

I looked up one 10.3 acre parcel and the taxes were $5235. Does that seem really low to anyone. We pay $3700 here in Sterling for a 2/3’s acre home?

Yeah Drew, it could never happen because the fake farmers and land inheritors in the west would have to, suddenly, pay their own way instead of being subsidized by the east. They act as if they don’t use the infrastructure that taxes pay for.

If it is land in AR-1 or AR-2 zoning and under 20 acres, it is not capable of being subdivided anyway—it is already ZONED “open space”.

To provide a tax break for “protecting” everyone from something it can’t do anyway makes no sense.

Time to once again open the discussion on splitting Loudoun into two counties. 

(It’s an idea that makes a lot of sense - but will never happen…)

Sadly, on every issue, residents in either the east or west take the “I’ve got my benefit, screw you” attitude.

Oh no! What will happen if all the “gentlemen farmers” lose their tax break for having 6 chickens? If Loudounites knew that these fake farmers are paying less in property taxes for 20+ acres than those with under 1/4 acre, they’d be pretty upset.

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