The ramping up of east-versus-west rhetoric on the Board of Supervisor’s dais is a troubling turn for the governing body, which had largely avoided such tiresome themes during its term.
The ploy has been most overt during debate over the merits of two land conservation programs—Transfer of Development Rights and Purchase of Development Rights—but can also be heard as an undercurrent in the development of the county’s new comprehensive plan. The comments are especially stark given the importance these same supervisors repeatedly have placed on the success of the rural economy and the need to protect rural land in their previous comments and actions.
Regardless of whether this changing tone is to be attributed to election-year tensions or to some simmering constituent frustration, it doesn’t bode well for the future protection of the county’s special land use balance that is commonly cited as a bedrock of the Loudoun’s overall quality of life. It only takes five votes to reverse decades of careful planning—irreversibly so.
As far as TDRs and PDRs go, communities around the commonwealth and around the nation has successfully implemented the conservation programs. Transfer of Development Rights should be used to advance the community’s land use goals, offering a creative way to promote both conservation and sensible well-planned development. A Purchase of Development Rights program is just one more tool to protect rural land from the whims of future county boards who may value open spaces—or lower the service costs they represent.
But as we’re finding with many elements of the ongoing countywide planning exercise, there’s not much creativity being explored.
For example, how about taking the east-west friction out of the equation in developing a funding source for PDRs? When faced with a similarly controversial expense, a previous Board of Supervisors developed a Metrorail funding program that was designed to put the payment burden on those likely to receive the most direct benefit. A special tax on land closest the rail line is expected to cover the county’s share of the construction costs. What if a similar funding program was designed in the rural area? What is some of the tax benefits generated by the success of those dynamic new businesses was invested in a conservation program, at least enough to leverage grants from other available sources.
These are not east-versus-west questions; these are shared community challenges. If we fail to address them today, our loss will be felt for generations.