In an effort to preserve land in Loudoun County, the Board of Supervisors will consider recommendations by its land use committee to re-establish the Purchase of Development Rights program after 16 years.
On July 22, the board’s land use committee voted unanimously to recommend establishing a Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program.
The committee also recommended the board consider funding a consultant out of the fiscal 2022 budget and creating a market study from the fiscal 2022 budget to examine the viability of a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program.
The committee voted 5-0. The board is scheduled to hear the item in September, according to the July PDR and TDR project plans.
Loudoun operated a PDR program between 2000 and 2004, resulting in open space easements covering 42 parcels and approximately 2,600 total acres at a cost of approximately $8.9 million, according to county staff.
In 2004, the Board of Supervisors suspended funding of the program.
In February 2019, the board sent the discussion of TDR program to its land use committee meeting for discussion. The committee also requested that staff prepare a scope and cost estimate for the establishment of a PDR program.
PDR program impact
If approved, the PDR program would allow the county to buy development rights on green space and then retire those rights, thus conserving the land.
County staff said development of the program would take an estimated 12 months from the board’s initiation. Assuming the board directs staff to initiate the project later this year, staff estimates that the requisite program structure and ordinance amendments could be in place to implement the project by the end of 2021.
TDR program impact
If the board moves forward on the TDR program, landowners would have the option to sell development rights from their land to another person or group that can use the rights to increase the density of development at another designated location. In Loudoun, that would likely be the eastern portion of the county.
Development of the TDR program is estimated to take 36 months from board’s initiation.
The Virginia General Assembly in 2006 allowed localities to set up procedures, methods and standards for creating a conservation ordinance.
What does the new Comprehensive Plan say?
The Loudoun 2019 Comprehensive Plan identifies 91,000 acres of land for potential development.
The development could accommodate 11,643 additional residential units. As stated in the Comprehensive Plan — which will guide future development, roadway improvements and efforts to preserve land in the west — the county will “preserve and protect prime farmland and agricultural soils, recognizing their importance to the overall economic health of the rural economy.”
Loudoun’s number of farms and acres in farmland production in the west have declined by approximately 10 percent since the 2012 Federal Census of Agriculture, according to county staff.
At that time, Loudoun had 1,396 farms with a total of 134,792 acres of farmland in production. 76 square miles of farmland were lost in the Rural Policy Area from 2002-2017, which made up 20 percent of the overall farmland area.
County staff projects that an additional 70-80 square miles will be lost by 2040 — equating to 50 percent of the area — through by-right development.
By-right development projects do not come before the board for legislative approval. Having a by-right use allows landowners to develop without the need for a special permit or special exception.
In December 2018, the board voted to establish a county conservation easement assistance program.
Ashburn Supervisor Mike Turner (D), land use committee chair, on creating a market study: “The only way a TDR program works if there’s a demand — we have something ... we really want to give, and they have something they really want to buy — and we don’t know yet whether that floor area is the high valued commodity that I think it is now.”
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large): “For the first time, I think in Loudoun we’re actually moving it forward, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. If it’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen. But at least we can have the conversation based on facts this time and not on assumptions and fear and all those types of things.”