Editor: In response to last week’s report on Chair Randall’s proposal to consider renewing Loudoun County’s Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program, opponents dragged out the old fable that county land conservation programs only benefit wealthy landowners. It’s the same line that was used to kill the PDR program back in 2004. It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.
The anti-conservationists claim that land conservation programs are unnecessary because landowners don’t intend to develop their properties anyway. Let’s look at a few facts.
In the 15 years since we last heard this story, Loudoun has lost another 30,000 acres of farmland to development. More than 7,000 new homes have built in the rural areas, adding 70,000 more vehicle trips per day to our already congested roads. As I write, there are more than 100 approved developments under construction. According to the county’s latest data, there are over 1,700 homes yet to be built in these ongoing developments. When those are completed and sold, they will add yet another 17,000 vehicle trips to our roads per day.
None of this is a secret. Everywhere we go, we see former farm fields marked out for more houses, access roads, wells, and septic fields. Trees are being cleared along our scenic byways and, with all the traffic, we have plenty of time to watch the subdivisions multiply. Anyone who still believes landowners will not sell to developers either must not live in the county or, sadly, must be blind.
The other part of the anti-conservation story is that Loudoun’s landowners are all wealthy and don’t need taxpayer support to conserve their land. As with most other stereotypes, this is misleading and unfair.
Many of our rural landowners, particularly those who continue to farm, are land-rich but cash-poor. In order to sustain themselves and their families when they retire, they have to find some way to monetize their land. The most lucrative way to do that is to sell to a subdivision developer. Fortunately for the rest of us, many still value the land and would prefer to preserve it for future generations.
The only viable option for those who would like to decline the developers’ offers is to receive some other compensation for voluntarily giving up their development rights and reducing the commercial value of their land. County support, through Purchase of Development Rights, Transfer of Development Rights, and other land conservation programs, can make this possible.
What does the county taxpayer get in exchange for the modest cost of these programs? The list is long and includes access to locally grown produce, beautiful scenery, parks and trails, a booming rural tourism business, less future traffic congestion, and billions of dollars they will not have to spend on new roads, schools, and other infrastructure.
As we’ve said before, this is a good deal for all county taxpayers, wherever they live. It is a good thing that our current Board of Supervisors understands and is taking concrete steps to avoid the mistakes of its predecessors.