Republican Supervisors Shoot Down Purchase of Development Rights Program

Republican supervisors have voted down a proposal to explore restarting Loudoun’s long-dormant program to purchase some landowners’ development rights and retire them, permanently protecting that land from development.

County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) proposed directing county staff to prepare a report on options for reestablishing the program, which has existed in Loudoun’s books since 1999 but has been unfunded since 2004 when a newly elected Board of Supervisors at its first meeting took dramatic steps to reverse much of the previous board’s planning, particularly around conservation.

Many of that board’s actions have since been reversed, but funding for the Purchase of Development Rights or PDR program has never been restored. Randall’s staff aide Laura TeKrony said before the program was shuttered, it protected more than 2,545 acres at a cost of $8.9 million, $4.2 million of which was from sources other than county taxpayer money, and that more outside money is available today than before. The proposal to reopen the program has support from groups including the Loudoun Farm Bureau, Virginia Farm Bureau, and Save Rural Loudoun.

But the current Board of Supervisors’ Republican majority stopped the program at the Feb. 21 board meeting. Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) said the program “basically ends up being a redistribution of funds from the east to the west.”

“I don’t think that we can basically tell folks in the rest of the county that we’re going to take taxpayer dollars and then use it on parcels of land many of which probably would never be developed anyway,” Meyer said.

Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said the program would mean raising taxes.

“I don’t mind buying land for a fire station, a sheriff’s station, a school, but to buy land just to extinguish rights is not in my mind a core function of government,” Buona said. “We don’t have the money to do it.”

Supervisors voted down the proposal 6-3, with Randall and supervisors Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) and Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) supporting it.

Earlier in the night, supervisors had narrowly voted to move ahead with a proposal by supervisors Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) to study a transfer of development rights program, which would allow rural landowners to sell the rights to develop their land to be used on property in other areas of the county.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

7 thoughts on “Republican Supervisors Shoot Down Purchase of Development Rights Program

  • 2019-02-25 at 12:19 pm
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    The argument that enacting a PDR program would mean raising taxes flies in the face of one of the main reasons TO ADOPT a PDR program. The county spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year on infrastructure and services like roads, schools, fire and rescue, teachers, libraries, etc, that are the direct result of land being developed. On average, a Loudoun residential unit returns far less in tax dollars than it costs the county in services and infrastructure. This is subsidized by commercial taxes and, even at the reduced land use tax rate, ag land taxes. Purchasing the development rights from a property costs a little money up front, but it saves millions in the long term. As the article states, Loudoun is also leaving state and federal matching dollars on the table, when we are exactly the kind of county that should be using those funds.
    As far as only benefiting western Loudoun, with a PDR program, any property could apply, which means the remaining farms in eastern Loudoun and the Transition area would also be eligible for these funds (yes they do exist!).
    Even if a landowner doesn’t “plan” to develop immediately, this preserves the land for the future. No one knows if the next owner, or the owner after that will decide to subdivide and put houses all over the farm, or if the zoning someday changes allowing intense development. This ensures that land is protected, and saving us potential tax dollars for years to come.
    Here’s hoping the board reconsiders this, as this is a penny wise and pound foolish decision.

  • 2019-02-25 at 5:19 pm
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    Let’s see
    Eastern Loudoun people spend tax dollars
    On development rights in the western Loudoun
    And get no use of it
    Also the less development in the west
    The more jammed up people in the east are
    Sounds like a great idea
    Thank goodness the republicans have
    Some common sense

    • 2019-02-26 at 8:40 pm
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      When you say don’t get any use of it, what exactly do you mean? The ability to have open land with livestock and fresh produce, wineries and breweries to host gatherings of friends centered around a county agriculture business, cleaner air and water which both filter down towards Eastern Loudoun, etc seems like there could be some decent benefits for the low long term cost of the program.

  • 2019-02-25 at 5:38 pm
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    Myers calling this a program that ““basically ends up being a redistribution of funds from the east to the west,” is pretty ironic considering the exact opposite state of affairs is what’s going on right now, and has for the last decade. The West funds the East in Loudoun. The west is revenue-positive because of low growth, while the East is revenue-negative because of growth. A PDR program would lock that in. But whatevs, don’t expect the current GOP to understand math — they’re the party that just passed a budget-busting tax cut.

  • 2019-02-26 at 7:10 am
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    Cmackg is 100% wrong. The Suburban Policy Area funds both the Transition and Rural Policy Areas.
    Almost all of our commercial tax revenue, which offsets the fact that residential units cost more than the tax revenue it generates, comes from the east. The west is hugely revenue negative because there is very little tax-generating commercial uses.
    This is a simple, verifiable fact.

  • 2019-02-26 at 8:48 am
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    When this program was funded…it still exists and nobody has tried to fund it not even Randall until election time…over $8 million was spent on nothing tangible. We could have purchased some nice park land with that money that could benefit residents directly.

    Watch her comments…when she tries to say it is a Comp Plan issue, then why not bring it up during review of the Comp Plan and not out of turn. It hasn’t been removed because the Board hasn’t approved a new Comp Plan yet.

    No solid justification of the benefits, nothing. Do a little research when asking the Board of Supervisors to support something and maybe you would be more successful. Unless this is an empty attempt to drum up support during campaign season.

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