Randall Pushes for County-Funded Purchase of Development Rights Program

County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) has proposed studying a much-talked-about program that would see the county government buy the rights to develop green properties, then retire them to ensure those properties stay unbuilt.

Like a transfer of development rights program, which would allow landowners to protect their land by selling development rights to another private person or company to be used elsewhere, purchase of development rights has been talked about more frequently as Loudoun works to revise its comprehensive plan. It has support from organizations like Save Rural Loudoun and the Loudoun County Farm Bureau.

Loudoun has an existing but unfunded Purchase of Development Rights program. Although it remains on the books, the program was abruptly defunded in 2004 when a newly-elected Board of Supervisors took dramatic steps to reverse the previous board’s planning—particularly around conservation—during its first meeting.

Although many of the 2004 board’s actions have since been reversed and the PDR program remained on the books, funding has never been restored to the program.

The Planning Commission’s latest draft of the new comprehensive plan has no reference to a purchase of development rights program, and commissioners have expressed opposition to both purchase and transfer of development rights. In particular, commissioner Cliff Keirce (Broad Run) argued a transfer program would unfairly increase density around people in the east to benefit people in the west.

But although the county’s previous jab at the program met with some criticism, Randall’s staff aide Laura TeKrony said it was a success.

“It conserved 12 easements and protected more than 2,545 acres,” TeKrony said. “The county committed $8.9 million at that time through the county’s open space preservation fund, but it was matched with more than $4.2 million from non-county grants and donations.”

She pointed out other Virginia counties including Fauquier and Clarke have purchase of development rights programs. In theory, it would give the county government more ability to directly target certain land for conservation that transfer of development rights, by using taxpayer dollars instead of relying on a market.

“The county can decide what resources it wants to protect, and it’s very proactive in the sense that it’s a county-directed program,” TeKrony said.

And since the county’s last run at the program, she said, many more opportunities for outside funding have come available.

“I don’t think she’s saying we have to have it, but it doesn’t make sense to not include it in the discussion,” TeKrony said.

County supervisors are expected to vote on whether to launch a study of the program at their meeting Feb. 5.


8 thoughts on “Randall Pushes for County-Funded Purchase of Development Rights Program

  • 2019-01-29 at 4:20 pm

    Snow flacks may be falling today from the sky, but Chair Randall now wants dollar bills to do the same., Down upon people with large land holdings, who would get money in huge bundles of cash so that they “will be able to insure the rural nature of Loudoun County will remain for future generations,” and be able to sell that land for a profit when they want to in the future, while in reality never intending on developing that land anyway. What a great trick. Money for nothing, and not even having the throw in my MTV!

  • 2019-01-29 at 5:42 pm

    It is my understanding that when the program was funded, at least two large property owners received over $1 million each from county funding to “not develop their property”. I believe that PDRs are unfair in several ways: 1. Tax money is taken from the landowners in eastern Loudoun and “transferred” to land owners in the west for a promise not to develop their property. Just as Lawgh says in the previous comment, most likely these land owners were not going to develop the property anyway. 2. Once the money is paid to the landowner, they get to pay substantially reduced property taxes on the property. This increases the tax burden on the owners in the east, who arguably get very little for their tax dollars put into this program. 3. The PDR program is only available to large land holders. Unless someone in the east is fortunate enough to own many acres, they can’t qualify to receive free tax money for not doing anything. Even if a person believes that there is additional funding to augment our tax dollars, the majority of the people in the county do not qualify for the PDR program. Frankly, it surprises me that Supervisor Randall, as a Democrat, would put forth a program that transfers even more wealth to the well-off residents of the county.

  • 2019-01-29 at 5:43 pm

    The biggest beneficiaries of a PDR program would be regular Loudoun taxpayers, east and west, who no longer have to pay for the enormous costs Loudoun has to pay for new houses. (A countywide average of perhaps $40,000 per house, upfront, plus thousands in costs every year…forever.) That’s pretty egalitarian. In the latest Survey of Citizens, an official document, the rural countryside was seen as Loudoun’s third greatest asset, after schools and our general location.

    Lawgh does not seem to understand that after selling its development rights, a property’s value declines and remains lower than if it still could be developed. The idea of huge future profits is a pipedream. Permanent protection of our countryside and relief from additional taxes would be the reality.

  • 2019-01-29 at 6:13 pm

    2,545 divided by 12…. 213 acres per lot average. 13 million bucks! What a deal. Where are these parcels located in the county? That would be really nice to know.

    It’s gonna’ be 80 and sunny tomorrow, because it’s the second time in a month I agree with Lawgh.

    “Lawgh for Sheriff.”

  • 2019-01-29 at 6:25 pm

    There’s a better option, and it’s what they do in Montgomery County – Called Transfer of Development Rights — developers pay the landowners for development density that they then use in developments closer to the urban core. In our case, set it so the only way to build a hipster-friendly apartment tower by the metro would be by buying development rights from farmers. Then the county doesn’t have to spend tax money on buying out the landed gentry.

  • 2019-01-29 at 7:11 pm

    As one of the above commenters noted, this program would save ALL Loudouners a huge amount in tax dollars in the long run. Every new involves not only capital costs borne by the taxpayer, but also then the costs of education, fire, law enforcement, libraries, and other services in perpetuity for that residence. The PDR program being proposed by the Chair is also the only program that allows the county to take advantage of cost share dollars from the state and federal governments for permanent farmland conservation. It only takes ONE landowner to decide that a parcel will never contribute to our agricultural economy again. Local farms keep dollars in the community, and as times and markets change, can be kept available for new types of production, be it grapes 20 years ago, direct market beef and lamb and vegetables today, or hemp tomorrow.
    Although individual landowners that take advantage of the proposed PDR program may or may not farm themselves, land will be available for our young and beginning “second career” farmers…without the land, either owned or leased, Loudoun’s rural economy ends. A PDR program is a small investment now, for long term tax savings and a sustainable collection of local businesses that are in the community for the long haul. Loudoun needs ALL THREE of the proposed land conservation programs (PDR, TDR, and Conservation Easements) because each one has unique characteristics that will work better in various circumstances and areas.
    Loudouners constantly say the rural wests open spaces are one of, if not the most highly prized assets in the community. Whether its for the local products they can pick up through a CSA, Farmers Market, speciality store, Co-op Market, or even regular grocery stores, or the tourism of visiting a winery or B&B, or even just enjoying a bike or horseback ride…none of these things work without the land being open. These programs are an investment in the future of keeping Loudoun special, and have the added benefit of saving us all tax dollars in the long run. Here’s hoping the Chair’s proposal wins approval.

  • 2019-01-30 at 7:44 am

    Sorry to read this. And so the wealthy elite, that were never going to develop their land anyway, get even richer. I was hoping for better from Ms. Randall. Her terrible defeat in the constitutional case against her and her support for the current county attorney (accused abuser) is too much. #metooforloudoun

  • 2019-01-30 at 9:46 am

    Just to clear up some misconceptions, the “wealthy elite”, generally in the southwestern portion of the county have already placed a large quantity of land into conservation easements, so this program wouldn’t be directed at those properties. What we need to focus on now are the remaining, mostly “smaller” farms which in many cases are owned by land rich but cash poor folks (example, farming full time and also driving a school bus to get benefits). These farms can still be 200-300 acres, but definitely aren’t the vision of “landed gentry” that some folks have.
    The short answer is, the folks who were generationally wealthy and were never going to sell their land for development have already put those properties into conservation easement over the past 3 decades. These programs are not aimed at those folks.

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