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.