Letter: Tia Walbridge, Round Hill

Editor: This past week, my daughters and I pulled into the driveway on a typical evening: I had come from a meeting at the county education building in Ashburn, picked up my oldest from Girl Scouts, and we headed home for homework and dinner. But as we stepped out of the car, we heard a telltale tiny “baa,” from the barn. We discovered one of our ewes surrounded by three beautiful newborn lambs. We dried and warmed the little ones—the low was 20 degrees that night, too cold to be a wet newborn—and fed their mama so she could nurse. My oldest daughter knew exactly how to test to make sure her milk was flowing freely.

It was in pursuit of exactly this life that my family came to western Loudoun. This is not a typical day for every Loudoun family, but it demonstrates a unique diversity of economy and environment that made so many of us decide to raise our families here—that one region can be home to so many lifestyles, in close proximity to an abundance of jobs, and with wonderful schools for our children, is a balance rare and precious, and it is not going to survive by accident.

I serve on the Virginia Agricultural Council and the board of Loudoun County Farm Bureau. I have worked on agricultural issues at both a local and state level. I know that any county that is serious about conservation and a future with active agriculture should have in place three programs that work in concert: a Transfer of Development Rights Program, which allows the county to transfer credits for development from rural areas to more urban areas; a Purchase of Development Rights Program, which gives the county the ability to purchase such rights to hold for future projects at its discretion; and a Conservation Easement Program, which allows landowners to sell their development rights in exchange for tax credits and benefits. These three programs together represent the gold standard in conservation.

On Thursday night, our county Board of Supervisors voted along party lines to deny even researching the role a Purchase of Development Rights program could play in our county. Of the three, the PDR program is the most commonly used statewide, used by 21 counties in Virginia, and is the most straightforward to implement.

After decades of work from activists and experts, I am thrilled our Board of Supervisors is finally talking about these programs. But they are allowing politics in an election year to dictate the conversation, creating a false choice that one program is better than another based on the party of the supervisor who proposed it. This not a one-size-fits-all situation, and we need all three programs to work together to address the needs of all regions, parcels, and landowners.

I urge every citizen of Loudoun to contact every supervisor and ask them to support all three conservation programs and be serious about implementing them so we can maintain our unique and balanced Loudoun for generations to come.

Tia Walbridge, Round Hill

[Editor’s Note: The writer is a candidate for the Blue Ridge District seat on the Board of Supervisors.]

9 thoughts on “Letter: Tia Walbridge, Round Hill

  • 2019-02-25 at 10:14 am

    The rules that are enacted need to ensure landowners do not get tax credits for turning the land into dump sites (e.g. sewage sludge and the landfill in Hamilton). Have any of the proposed programs addressed these concerns? Why pay wealthy landowners to ruin the land?

  • 2019-02-25 at 11:08 am

    Both Purchase and Transfer of Development Rights programs are critical pieces of a Loudoun future that includes a place for agriculture and a rural economy. A Transfer of Development rights program could be the tool to leverage developments around metro stations and data centers to permanently preserve land for agriculture and natural resource protection. The benefit of a PURCHASE of Development Rights Program, is that is requires no development, and simply extinguishes the development rights on a rural parcel. Both programs are completely voluntary, and both would aide younger farmers in being able to establish operations to serve the huge market we have for locally grown and raised food.
    As the previous poster commented, these programs also have components that would not allow the large scale dumping operations we’ve seen in Loudoun over recent years in Lucketts, Leesburg, and Hamilton. Operations like those destroy land’s ability to be farmed for years, if not forever.
    The argument that these programs will only benefit “rich” landowners is a misnomer. It benefits every Loudoun resident because those protected lands will never require additional services or infrastructure in areas ill suited to intense residential development, saving us all tax dollars. It benefits the farmer who wants to keep farming after inheriting land, but has non-farming siblings that want to cash out. The sale of development rights allows that farmer to provide their fellow heirs with their desired inheritance, while keeping the land that makes their livelihood and business possible. It benefits the retiring farmer who doesn’t have family interested in farming, but would like to keep their land open for production for a the next generation of farmers outside of their own family. We’ve seen examples of successful of use of easements and Loudoun’s previously funded farmland conservation programs to do just this in areas like Wheatland where there’s a concentration of productive, profitable, diverse young producers. These operations would not exist if not for the fact the land is protected through various measures.
    The measures aren’t red or blue, as they’ve been enacted in traditionally conservative jurisdictions and reliably liberal ones. The uniting force is that whether they farm or not, people see the value, both economic and quality of life, in having agriculture and open spaces in their community and they had the foresight to enact legislation to help protect them. Here’s hoping our Loudoun leaders do the same! The opportunity is there to but their positive stamp of conservation on Loudoun for generations to come.

  • 2019-02-25 at 11:33 am

    Tia, Loved your story. Thanks for sharing it. Regarding development of the western region of Loudoun I believe you heard my input at the most recent Piedmont Council meeting in Waterford. It deserves being repeated because too many folks don’t realize the role of the state in the over development of Loudoun. THE STATE IS ADDICTED TO INCREASED INCOME TAX REVENUES! The evidence is all around us. The Supervisors know this is a Dillion state and although we can negotiate with the state we can’t dictate to the state. Remember how the state supported Dominion power putting extra large power lines on the W&OD trail no matter what Loudoun wanted. Remember how the school referral proffer support and the proffer process itself is designed to insure high density development is not stopped by local preferences. Remember the composite index which the state uses to hold back sales tax funds from Loudoun to the tune of over $200 million per year. Did you notice not one of our legislators or the BOS FORCES VDOT to even meet VDOT’s own published standards for road provisioning and maintenance. Isn’t it the state that restricts the VDOT budget? If the REAL problem isn’t addressed with the state by the BOS and our legislators we will eventually see the western part of Loudoun look like the eastern part. We have to work together to address the real issues supported by facts not the distractions pushed by short term politicians just trying to get elected to some state or federal position. The long term counts!

  • 2019-02-25 at 11:34 am

    Ms. Walbridge is using Letters to the Editor as a campaign tool to accuse current BOS reps of being political in a campaign year. That’s rich. Were she truly a concerned citizen, she’d reach out to the BOS and have a conversation, or direct her concerns to the BOS directly. No, she’s too busy campaigning.
    Thankfully, Buffington is busy working, researching, and helping his constituents.

  • 2019-02-25 at 1:15 pm

    I appreciate the Board’s decision not to waste unnecessary staff time on a PDR program. If you were at the meeting, it was confirmed that a TDR program – which the Board moved forward – does everything a PDR program can do, and more. Walbridge is using a LTE as a campaign effort, trying to take jabs at Buffington. And while I’m sure everyone is glad that she realizes the importance of conservation, it’s clear that the current Supervisor has already worked on programs she mentioned. Sometimes #blue isn’t “better, Tia. Results are always better. We’re getting those with Buffington.

  • 2019-02-25 at 4:46 pm

    This letter was suspect when she claimed, very specifically, it was 20 degrees this past week in Round Hill. It hasn’t been 20 degrees in RH since February 10th.

    If she’s campaigning via embellishment already, she’ll make a fine pol… somewhere. Hopefully not in Loudoun. We have enough of that “stuff” already.

  • 2019-02-26 at 8:55 am

    Ha! I knew what this piece was at the first sentence.

  • 2019-02-26 at 9:54 am

    Just to respond to a couple of the comments above. First off, as a member of the ag community in Loudoun both Tia Walbridge and Tony Buffington have been VERY engaged and active on farmland conservation issues. They disagree on the PDR program, but not the TDR program. Personally, I think both programs are necessary and effective. The benefit of the TDR program is that it requires no funding, but it is limited by the amount of development you can “transfer” to other places. The PDR requires funding, but it extinguishes the development rights completely, can be used in any area of the county, and would leverage dollars from the state farmland conservation fund (those cool “farming since 1614” License plates folks pay extra for pay for that) and federal farm bill. Ideally you’d have a TDR program to take a chunk out of the need, and have the PDR program to back it up, or serve areas not eligible through a TDR program. The dollar amount needed to make a difference, when taking into account the extra dollars from Virginia and the Federal government is about what it would cost to fund a turn lane. To say that either Ms. Walbridge hasn’t been engaged with the BOS or doing something other than writing Letters to the Editor is not accurate. Likewise Mr. Buffington and his staff have been active an engaged through his TDR and Conservation Easement Proposal. Neither Ms. Walbridge or Mr. Buffington are the problem here…they are part of the solution, whoever wins the seat in November.
    The trouble becomes, as evidenced through the comments at the BOS meeting last week, whether either proposal will have the votes to actually get approved and in place. The TDR program has been sent to the Transportation and Land Use Committee to be studied further. If that program is not in the comprehensive plan when it is approved this year, its legally not allowed to be implemented down the road. A couple of the votes for sending the item to TLUC made comments that sure sounded like there was no way they would actually support establishing the program. Here’s hoping thats not the case. Agriculture is too important economically and environmentally to Loudoun’s future for that.

    • 2019-02-26 at 8:48 pm

      I would agree. To anyone who have known them in Loudoun County would know they take their time to address issues that face the agriculture community in western Loudoun. While they disagree here, there is a place for both programs, and it should be championed by those who truly understand the ag issues facing the western loudoun community. I support both and would like to see those who disagree to spend some time talking to farmers and folks who live in the country part of Loudoun.

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