Letter: Paul Lawrence, Middleburg

Editor: Momentum is building in Loudoun for an ordinance to make development rights transferable, something that has proven hugely successful at satisfying both the needs of developers and preserving agricultural land in neighboring Montgomery County, MD. There, developers have paid $120 million in 7,000 transactions to acquire development rights on more than 52,000 acres of farmland and utilized them in areas more appropriate for development.  Many other counties in the U.S. and a few in Virginia have adopted TDR ordinances, including Frederick recently.

During the wee hours of Dec. 5, the Board of Supervisors approved an initiative put forward by Catoctin District Supervisor Geary Higgins and Blue Ridge District Supervisor Tony Buffington and referred the question of a TDR ordinance to the county’s staff for study and a report back to the board on Feb. 21.

The principal idea behind a TDR program is that the Board of Supervisors should not give away any additional development density anywhere in the county over and above what is currently allowed—whether the new development is housing units, commercial square footage or data centers—without requiring developers to remove the potential for development somewhere else through purchase of transferable development rights.

A TDR ordinance would allow landowners to sever their development rights from their land ownership, thereby making their development rights transferable upon recordation of an open-space easement in favor of the county. After severing the development rights, landowners would be able to sell them at a market-determined price while maintaining full ownership of their land. The TDR program would be entirely voluntary,i.e., no landowner would be required to give up his development rights if he wants to develop all or part of his property.

Developers would purchase TDRs at a fair price if market conditions permit them to take advantage of additional densities made possible by the Board of Supervisors acting through a public process with community involvement. Developers would use those TDRs as their ticket to build additional housing, commercial space or data centers where the board and the community have determined that is desirable. Those locations would be determined by the community acting through the board’s adoption of the Comprehensive Plan, amendments to the Zoning Ordinance, or approval of conditional zoning applications for specific projects. A purchase of TDRs by a developer would not confer an automatic right to increase density wherever the developer might wish, so there would be no surrender by the Board of Supervisors of its authority over the course of development in the county.

A TDR ordinance would also requiredevelopers to purchase TDRs in order to take advantage of densities made possible by the Comprehensive Plan. This is necessary to create a market for TDRs. Without the mandate, or some other equally strong incentive for developers to purchase TDRs, no market for TDRs would exist. With a functioning TDR market, the benefit to Loudoun’s citizens will be that every increase in housing, commercial or data-center development authorized in one place in the county will be offset by taking development rights off the table somewhere else.

Those supporting the TDR concept are not advocating “density packing” in the suburban areas of eastern Loudoun. By creating overlapping sending and receiving areas that cover most of the county, a TDR ordinance could permit, with community and board approval, transfers of development rights both into and out of the Rural Policy Area, the Transition Policy Area, the Suburban Policy Area and perhaps even the county’s incorporated towns and the Joint Land Management Areas around them if the towns are willing to participate in the program.

A TDR ordinance would be completely neutral about the wisdom of adding additional housing, commercial or data center density in eastern Loudoun, western Loudoun or anywhere else in the county. Its effect would be to maintain the current level of authorized development county-wide yet meet the county’s needs for growth where the board and the public deem that to be desirable.

Making development rights transferable provides an additional policy tool that can be employed by the community acting through the Board of Supervisors to achieve the county’s overall planning objectives. If the county decides to authorize additional development anywhere to meet growth needs, this will be an opportunity to reduce density elsewhere—one that will be lost unless we have a TDR ordinance and a functioning TDR market.

Paul Lawrence, Middleburg

17 thoughts on “Letter: Paul Lawrence, Middleburg

  • 2018-12-10 at 1:11 pm
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    This letter fits well in the category of fantasy fiction. Nothing claimed by the writer has any link to reality. Developers gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in the last two elections for the Board of Supervisors. Chair Randall took a huge chuck of that money, and Supervisor Volpe took piles of that money. As did Supervisors Koran T. Saines and Ron Meyers. So, why should any of us believe the absurd claims in this letter. All it takes is a rezoning, and two thirds of the County, including the Transition Zone, is open to be plundered. That’s why TDR’s are such a bad idea.

  • 2018-12-10 at 1:43 pm
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    I think you’re correct Lawgh ole’ buddy: This comes down to a wave of the magic wand of rezoning. Developer money and politicians always seem to be toxic mix. The Transition Area is a dead man walking.

  • 2018-12-11 at 9:53 am
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    I don’t understand the negative comments, unless this is a reflexive “all politicians are crooked and we can’t do anything” comment. The TDR proposal came from Geary Higgins, who happens to be Republican, but who I have found to represent the overwhelming consensus of his constituents in the Catoctin district to preserve the unique beauty and open countryside of Western Loudoun. TDRs do work in other places, it takes political willpower to go against the wishes of developers and make them pay a fair price for the right to build at higher densities and thus make more money. Right now we are giving away these rights with no fair compensation, especially in the areas around the new metro stops. So Chris and Lawgh old buddies stop being so cynical and support these politicians who are sticking their necks out.

  • 2018-12-11 at 11:22 am
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    Supervisor Higgins is an outstanding elected official, just as you describe Mr. Love. He’s in my food chain, and I support him completely aside from a specific vote or two. That said, my pal Lawgh has got it right; it’s a simple zoning change to continue endless development regardless of what programs or schemes are attempted. I’ve witnessed it in Loudoun for decades, despite the best efforts of noble-minded folks trying to stem the flood.

    Our super new all improved best eveh’ “comp plan” was written by developers. The Transition Area is dead. Any new “transition area” will be dead too in a few short years. We can come with TDRs MREs, TNTs, FDRs, TTPs, NVTAs, KBEs, whatever you want to call them. But at the end of the day, it’s the ole’ magic wand of a zoning change. That’s the heart of the matter.

    My good buddy Lawgh and I are generally adversaries. It would be intellectually dishonest for me not to admit they’re right on this issue. But I hear ya’ — Being cynical dosen’t advance the ball. Yet, after having that ball swiped out from under you time after time, while us regular folks sit in jammed traffic, over crowded schools, vinyl blight, and breath taking county debt, it becomes much harder to see how it won’t get worse.

  • 2018-12-11 at 11:43 am
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    Mr. Love: We do not live in a perfect world, nor one in which people can support something that they do not understand, as unfortunately, you appear to have done. TDRs is a concept in which someone who could put houses on their land, sells that right to another person who then puts those houses on the purchaser’s land. End result, more and more houses. Not less houses. And where will these new houses go, since they have to go somewhere? Answer: In Loudoun County. And where in Loudoun County? Where there is empty land to put the houses. And where is the most obvious place to put these houses where there is empty land? The Transition Zone, which just moves more and more houses further west into the western portion of Loudoun County. And who benefits from this: Developers and those Board of Supervisor members who have had their hands out and taken huge piles of money. Lile Chair Randall, Supervisor Volpe, and Supervisors Saines and Meyers. So, I think people need to stop and think before they jump on a bandwagon for something that is actually a trojan horse.

  • 2018-12-11 at 12:24 pm
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    Right now, Loudoun needs all the tools we can muster to keep agricultural land available for production and forested and open areas for conservation and recreation. We have a huge market for locally grown and raised food, but that market requires land to produce it on. Likewise, in order to meet the mandated goals of the final stage of the Chesapeake bay clean up, we’ll need protected open spaces to capture filter nutrients and sediment at much lower costs than expensive and maintenance-heavy suburban and urban stormwater practices. So whether its Supervisor Buffington’s Easement proposal, providing funding for Loudoun’s dormant Purchase of Development Rights Program, or Supervisor Higgins’ Transfer of Development Rights program, we need an all of the above approach. Obviously we as citizens have to stay vigilant to make sure these programs if established and carried out and maintained, but lets not throw up our arms in defeat before we give them a shot. Here’s to using whatever tools are in the toolbox get us to a goal of a critical mass of agricultural land to keep providing local products to our neighbors for generations to come.

  • 2018-12-11 at 2:27 pm
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    TDRs have saved tens-of-thousands of rural acres across the Potomac in Montgomery County. They work but they can be complicated to establish. Here’s an example: A transfer does not have to be a house for a house. You could trade rights to develop housing for the right to increase, say, shopping center density. In that event the transferor of housing rights would probably also receive cash. The County would have the key role in establishing receiving areas, which could be a painful political process. But heck, isn’t that why they ran for office in the first place?

  • 2018-12-11 at 3:29 pm
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    Fun discussion with one side continuing to spin fantasy. The latest poster, Mr. Houston, would now have us believe that developers are lining up to build shopping centers all over western Loudoun. Let’s be honest. TDR is about houses. Houses that land owners in western Loudoun claim they would love to build, but out of the goodness of their heart, and their wallets if money can be stuffed in there, will not build houses on their land, and instead will conserve the land by stuffing houses all over Loudoun County. Greed is at the base of this. And that greed will be fueled by developers who have the cash, and supervisors like Chair Randall, along with Supervisors Volpe, Saines and Meyer, moving it along, for the contributions they have been stuffing into their campaign accounts.

  • 2018-12-11 at 5:17 pm
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    I don’t think any of us would be upset if there were NO more residential development in Loudoun. Thats why a PDR program is probably more appealing at a basic level, because it extinguishes the development rights completely. But if the county a dead set on putting more intensive urban development around the metro stops, we hopefully should get something “in exchange” for that more intense development through a TDR program and not just “give it away” as part of the standard zoning. Conservation Easements either public or private are also a critical tool, because they offer probably the most iron clad protection for farmland long term. All of these tools have been used in our neighboring jurisdictions in Maryland and all around the Commonwealth, so there’s a good precedent for them. If we just throw up our hands an accept the status quo, we know where that gets us. Even with no ‘rezonings” there are tens of thousands of by-right residential lots that are already approved, so even if our current board didn’t approve any more intensive development, we’ve still got to deal with that time bomb. These programs just give us a way to HOPEFULLY preserve something for the folks who live in the county now.

  • 2018-12-13 at 3:49 pm
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    TDR is a great idea. The negative comments seem to reflect a misunderstanding of how TDR would work. It would not add any more housing to the county than will be allowed anyway (for better or worse) by the zoning ordinance. But it would create an incentive for developers who want to build in places where the zoning ordinance allows to pay for the creation of permanent easements on other land the county wants to preserve. To the extent the county might want to use taxpayer money to purchase development rights as a way of preserving rural areas, TDR would save taxpayers’ money by creating an incentive for developers to pay for it instead. Thanks to Supervisors Higgins and Buffington for supporting this!

  • 2018-12-13 at 6:37 pm
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    Now the fantasy flingers have gone too far. JGE claims that TDR’s would add no more housing than would be allowed anyway. Total nonsense. The more the pro-TRD commenters speak, the more clear it is that they have no idea how TDR’s work, or the devastating impact it would have on Loudoun County, totally destroying any zoning planning, and only putting off for a short period of time the development of western Loudoun. No one should trust future Board of Supervisors, who with the stoke of a pen change the zoning in western Loudoun, and add more density, to land that supposedly was no longer able to be developed, and therefore, more houses that can be built. Greed, pure and simple is what is driving this. A group of greedy landowners in the west who think they can trick us into setting up a program that puts money in their pockets, while claiming they have this “deep and abiding love for the rural character of western Loudoun.” When more houses come to Loudoun County because of these ridiculous plans, watch our taxes go up and up.

    • 2018-12-14 at 2:16 pm
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      Lawgh, it is easy for an anonymous flamer like you to ridicule and impugn the good will of serious people like me who actually know something about TDRs. Who are you and what do you know about use of TDRs as a tool of land use policy? I suggest you order and read a copy of “The TDR Handbook,” which you can buy on Amazon.com and which supervisors Higgins and Buffington both studied before making their TDR proposal. Until you know something about the subject, readers here can expect that you will just continue spreading misinformation. The apparent target of your venom is the forthcoming Loudoun 2040 Comprehensive Plan as amended by the Planning Commission to propose 22,000 additional houses in the TPA. I share your view that it would be unfortunate if that version of the Comprehensive Plan is adopted, but TDRs have nothing to do with that decision. TDRs would simply exact a price from developers if they succeed in pushing it through at the Board of Supervisors. I believe it is unlikely that the Comp Plan is going to be approved as currently written. Regardless, a TDR ordinance should be put in place to make developers pay to protect rural land elsewhere if zoning changes occur to implement any of the provisions of the Plan, including its “Place Types” concept, which is a big unknown. With your comments here, you are misdirecting your anger at those who are actually trying to do something to stop uncontrolled growth in Loudoun.

  • 2018-12-14 at 6:59 pm
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    Sorry, Mr. Lawrence, but a Loudoun County TDR greed driven program would be a disaster in Loudoun County. Western Loudoun land owners (some of them, anyway, as the minimal lot size residential home owners are the ones you should be protecting) with their claims of a “deep and abiding love for the rural character of western Loudoun,” are clearly just greedy money grabbers. If they really meant would they claim, they would continue owning and maintaining their land holdings as is. Greed, pure and simple, is the root of this. Any argument that TDR is a way to make “developers pay” is a specious claim, rooted in an effort to hide the truth of the game of TDR’s. Holding a hand out to grab piles of money is what this is all about To stop uncontrolled growth, put the land in a conservation easement – all of the property. There now seems to be just such a program, and that should be good enough. Then, no more house stuffing in two-thirds of the County, and no new houses in western Loudoun. Easy. So why do we have the new TDR push? Again, greed, pure and simple.

    • 2018-12-15 at 6:52 pm
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      TDRs are not about greed; they are about incentives for landowners to protect open space with permanent easements. Not every landowner can afford to or will donate a conservation easement, although I have donated two and am about to donate a third. There are upfront costs and tax audit risks with conservation easements that cause many to hesitate, especially owners of smaller farms of 20 to 40 acres. Some people just don’t like the idea of giving anything away, including development rights, which can be half or more of the value of a property placed in easement. There are also hard-working farmers nearing or past retirement age who love their land and want to continue living on it but need to retire and must find a way to monetize their investment in the land without selling to a developer, which is the easiest path. Talk to John Adams with the Lovettsville Farmers Club if you want to understand that perspective. TDRs will allow farmers to realize the value of their development rights, yet retain their land, in return for an easement held by the County that permanently preserves gorgeous open spaces for the benefit of you and other visitors who enjoy the views when you come out for the local foods, craft breweries, wineries, bicycling, hiking, wedding events etc. that make western Loudoun so popular with local visitors from eastern Loudoun. What is needed to create the TDR market for farmers like Mr. Adams is that developers be required to buy TDRs in order to build data centers, office buildings or multifamily housing with densities or floor area ratios greater than what is currently allowed, perhaps in the new Urban Policy Areas around the Silver Line stations. If the Board of Supervisors listens to the concerns of the electorate, which they should, there will be no additional density in the Transition Policy Area or the Suburban Policy Area, with the possible exception of older areas around Sterling if there is a consensus that redevelopment there could be desirable.

  • 2018-12-16 at 7:33 pm
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    Sorry, Mr. Lawrence, but you just ruined any argument for TDRs. Your own words: “especially owners of smaller farms of 20 to 40 acres” is what you wrote. I believe that in western Loudoun, most land is zoned for only one home per twenty acres. One Home! And if the current owner lives on that property, that is all that can be built on that property, and there is nothing to sell. And, unless I am very mistaken, the laws of trespass still exist, and somehow I doubt very much that I could just stroll all over someone’s property, do whatever I wanted, to my personal enjoyment, any time hat I wanted to. But your spin of fiction is only matched by (if you are being honest) your gullibility. Do you honestly think that you can ever trust future boards of supervisors on how they vote on rezoning?! Only a fool would think that. No, your arguments, like those others on this page, who argue for TDRs, are selling a con game, and no one is going to be fooled into thinking it is anything else but a greedy money grab.

    • 2018-12-18 at 9:31 am
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      Lawgh, your last post demonstrates how little you understand about the zoning ordinance. A parcel of 20 acres in the AR-1 zone of western Loudoun (pretty much everything North of Snickersville Turnpike) can be divided into four lots under the cluster development option. It could have one rural economy lot of 15 acres and three cluster lots of 1.67 acres each. So the owner of a 20-acre parcel has four development rights he could sell under a TDR program, or three if he already has a house on part of his property. I think we have some fine elected representatives on the Board of Supervisors and they are going to listen to the voters about zoning changes in the RPA and TPA. However, if you really believe they will be authorizing massive zoning changes to serve developer interests, then you should be arguing for a TDR ordinance, as it would provide a mechanism to take land off the table in one place every time a zoning change is approved somewhere else. Ultimately, that is the elegant beauty of a TDR program – it works to preserve land somewhere even as the pressures of market forces cause development somewhere else.

  • 2018-12-18 at 2:10 pm
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    I beg to differ with you, Mr. Lawrence, but you have been so wrong on so many things you have claimed about TDRs, your credibility is much in question. And a However to you as well, with the following: all zoning matters ultimately are with the Board of Supervisors. Any future act they take is unpredictable. So, in order to preserve the land, as you state, it only requires one thing, now that we have a conservation easement program. A conservation easement. Why does that not accomplish everything you claim is important. Yet, you throw into the mix TDRs which is a money grab by landowners who we are led to believe have “a deep and abiding love” for a rural Loudoun. Since you and I are simply repeating ourselves, it is time to move on, and the future will speak for itself on TDRs. Ultimately, I suspect that the money grubbing landowners in rural Loudoun who you feel would love this program of TDRs will most likely be left sitting at the alter, when it becomes clear that no developer will waste his or her time trying to buy up a single house development right from your 20 acre land owner.

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