The surprise purchase of additional western Loudoun parkland announced by county leaders last week is a welcome investment, one with great strategic value that effectively expands two existing parks.
While the acquisition is expected to remove a few house lots from western Loudoun’s development pipeline, the action should not be viewed as an effective conservation strategy, as some would like to tout it.
Increasingly, western supervisors—and those campaigning for those board seats this fall—have come to the realization that placing land under easement is the best way to keep countryside land open. However, the fact that the majority of the current board rejected inserting even the concept of development rights acquisition programs in the new comprehensive plan provides little hope that Purchase of Development Rights or Transfer of Development Rights will gain political traction on a county-wide basis,, despite their long-term fiscal benefits.
An approach more likely to win consideration would be tailored to the region. That is, revenues raised in western Loudoun could be dedicated to promoting permanent land conservation. That funding could be generated in a variety of ways. It could be a special tax district based on real estate values. Or, perhaps it could be a program linked to the success of the rural economy—putting a quarter from the sale of each craft beer or glass of wine into the viewshed preservation pot. Or there may be a way to reinvest tourist-generated revenues into programs that protect the resources that attract them.
These voluntary conservation easements are, in fact, the only preservation method that can withstand changing political winds at a time when only five votes are required to reverse decades of strategic planning. It is an investment worth making.