Stumptown Woods

Stumptown Woods, 87 acres of land near Lucketts, has been placed in conservation easement.

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.

The vote

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.

History

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.

Supervisors’ takes

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.”

(21) comments

Wahoowah

It’s too late for Western Loudoun. All the Fairfax and Eastern Loudoun people moved to the “Country” in Western Loudoun. And cut down trees to put up parking lots and shopping centers. I never understand- if that’s what they wanted why not just stay where they were? My family has all moved to the Shenedoah Valley. I so loved Purcelleville and Bluemont. The people who moved in that wanted country couldn’t take it. I wish they stayed away

Voltaire

Wahoowah--OK. I agree with you about your comment on Western Loudoun. However, Eastern Loudoun used to be rural too until the Board of Supervisors, around 1980, decided, through failed zoning and development policies, to let developers "urbanize" Eastern Loudoun to the state that that portion of the county is now. People, who didn't like this policy, decided to move west to get back to a rural setting. It got so bad that there were bumper stickers saying "Don't Fairfax Loudoun". Residents of Clarke County had bumper stickers saying "Don't Loudoun Clarke". I don't think you can blame the Fairfax and Eastern Loudoun people. You should blame the Board of Supervisors and County Government who, through various reasons/motives, chose to side with developers and not citizens.

Wahoowah

Yes - I know - I was here. In Bluemont and Round Hill the people who started moving in all talked about wanting more grocery stores, shopping centers, etc. now they have them. And Route 50 is now a complete disaster from South Riding to Aldie.

LoudounClear

Route 50 reflects the most bizarre form of zoning ever seen. Houses next to data centers next to shopping centers...

Voltaire

LC--I agree. It does make you wonder what motivations/"incentives", those officials got who allowed that odd mix/combination.

Wahoowah

It won't let me Reply to LoudounClear or Voltaire...but I wanted to ask if anyone (if you know what I describe) - why on Route 50 between South Riding and Stone Ridge...the newish Hospital. They constructed the Emergency Room/Trauma Center a few years before there. Then they built the Hospital separately not even attached to the original Emergency/Trauma Center. And when I'm over that way I think that Emergency Building is empty. Why didn't they build the Emergency Room where the Hospital is, and add the Hospital on to it when they were ready??? I just have no idea - I look at that and am so confused. Someone told me it would become Doctor's offices. But the times I've driven by there is no one there and it looks empty. What a total waste.

LetSanityPrevail

Always wondered about that myself.

BobDobbs

I remember the bumper stickers BUT someone voted these folks in. I believe the term we're all struggling with here is "backlash".

LoudounRoots

The Save Prime Farmland (SPF) initiative is just another vehicle for the conservationists to control growth which I have been witnessing for nearly over 30 years. The folks in the east better wake up and put a stop to this nonsense if they ever want an opportunity to buy land in the west to raise their families on. Prices are increasing rapidly due to the low inventory of building lots. The real reason for this initiative can be found in the REDC’s conclusion section of their Dec 6, 2019 letter to the BOS. It states “If western Loudoun’s vistas were to be packed with clustered housing developments instead of some of the most beautiful vistas in the nation, our rural economy would come crashing down. No one drives two hours to sit in a winery and view the scene they could see from their condo balcony in Fairfax”. In short, they want to take property rights and property values away from the farmer to protect the businesses that flourish off the views of the farmers land. This initiative will no doubt require the houses of future subdivisions to be placed over the hill, out of site near the swamp land and not on prime farmland. This type of house location is seriously less desirable and thus reduces the farmer’s land value. Plus the soils in these areas will no doubt require “alternative septic systems” which is another factor which will reduce the value of the farmers land. Saving Loudoun’s natural beauty is important but please don’t do it at the expense of the few remaining farmers that still exist. Be fair to the farmer and don’t steal their equity because you outnumber them. You will sleep better at night if you take this approach. Thank you for your consideration!

Iluvloudoun

Makes zero sense that they want to change the ‘transition zone’ to high density, low income housing but they want to preserve the under-utilized western portion of the county!!! Ridiculous!!!

Lawman

I see the Western Loudoun welfare machine is still up and running. They get welfare from the Federal And State Governments and now besides the Soil and Water Commissions hand outs, here comes the County. Must be nice to sit back and cash taxpayer checks.

Charles Houston

Given the A-3 zoning at the time, 833 houses could have been built on the 2,600 acres. Today the County uses a "Capital Intensity Factor" to figure out its front-end cost of accommodating each new house.Thus by spending $8.9 million, the county saved $35 million. And those savings are spread county-wide in the way of tax avoidance. It was a great deal for ALL of the county.

LoudounPulse

This is a waste of time and money. You cannot incentivize people to not sell their land to developers unless the county is willing to offer more money to the land owners than the developer. Maybe those folks in Middleburg who are already rich can afford the county's charity to no sell and keep the land as green space. But other farmers who are barely able to make a nickel from their land are more likely to sell to the highest bidder. And that highest bidder won't be Loudoun County, but more likely Toll Brothers.

Loudoun Farmer

Although its been a long time coming, this slow and steady progress on farmland conservation is really good to see. To the previous poster's comment about prioritizing better soils, the good news is that the board did take action on that front as well with the Board Member Initiative to direct staff to write zoning to protect USDA Class I Prime Ag Soils when properties come up for subdivision, and make sure those Class I soils end up on the rural economy lots, and not on the clusters residential lots. Likewise a PDR or TDR program could use a ranking system that prioritizes farms with higher percentages of high quality soils.

Finally, this definitely NOT an East vs. West issue. Every new residential subdivision in western Loudoun will use more in services than it provides back in tax dollars, so the cost avoidance by keeping these lands in ag production benefits all the county's tax payers, to say nothing of the fact that the Covid crisis has shown the demand for locally grown food is very high and we need to keep land to keep producing that high quality meat, cheese, produce, grain, and beverages.

There is a reason why all our surroundings counties (except Fairfax) utilize or are planning to utilize similar programs. They work, and its a small investment that saves money and benefits the community in the long run.

BobOhneiserEsq

During my discussions with many western Loudoun farmers they emphasized the quality of the "soil" needs to be a major part of such deals. There is much less to gain by just keeping "dirt" from development. I would hope the BOS gets a bit more involved regarding the qualitative aspects of what is being preserved and in some cases it might make sense to outright buy the high quality soil farms. (perhaps with the taxes that should be collected from HHMI and the Greenway) :-)

AreYouKidding

The previous incarnation of the PDR ended up to a great degree being a transfer of tax dollars to wealthy long term landowners that were never going to sell their property, "estates", for development while many smaller property owners that could have used the money and were more likely to sell to developers were left out. How is it going to be different this time around?

The TDR sounds like a horrible idea. Forcing those in eastern Loudoun to deal with even more development so western Loudoun can be preserved and those living in western Loudoun can line their pockets sounds like a disaster that will just further split the county.

applicant45554

Yep. Great for those living in western Loudoun. Bad for eastern Loudoun. Surprised Turner is supporting it since he’s supposed to be representing Ashburn.

LoudounClear

Of course many want to pit East vs West (encouraged to do so by developers, in fact). But there is just one Loudoun County and unless you're eager to drive 50 miles to see a tree I think you should realize it's bigger than East vs. West.

applicant45554

I am not “encouraged by developers”. This has historically been a pro-developer concept that allows them to develop in eastern Loudoun without paying proffers. There should be a few trees in eastern Loudoun too.

LoudounClear

Bravo. Way late to the game -- county should have done this years ago when there was much more open land -- but it's a great idea. Maybe the next generation will think of better things to do with the land so preserve the option for them.

Squaks11

Great post.

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