Landowners can sell or donate their rights to develop a parcel, while retaining ownership of the land itself for remaining purposes (often as farmland, forest or open space).
Conservation easements are land deeds that transfer some property rights to a qualified non-government agency (land trust) or public agency, such as the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF).
Typically, landowners sell/donate the rights to develop most or all of the houses permitted by local zoning on their property. If zoning permits 10 houses to be constructed on a 100-acre parcel, the landowner could retain the right to build one house but sell/donate the development rights to the other 9 houses to a land trust.
With lower development potential, the value of the 100-acre parcel would drop substantially. Landowners are compensated through payments from Purchase of Development Rights Programs, tax credits, or both so the sale of a conservation easement makes financial sense to the private property owner.
Land trusts have permanent legal authority to enforce the terms of conservation easements. If a future owner of a parcel with a conservation easement attempts to build an excessive number of houses or violate other terms of the deal (such as preservation of stream buffers), the land trust can go to court to enforce the terms of the deal.
Most conservation easements keep land private, but could be written to authorize public use on trails or even the entire parcel. When the objective is to limit development in order to preserve natural or historical values, a conservation easement may be appropriate.
There were 384 responses to the county’s survey on the Rural Area, and whether current policy to preserve that area for agriculture and low-density development should be altered.
Developers propose every year to bust open the zoning and allow more houses. The Rural Preservation Study now being conducted by the Planning Department could be just a stalking horse to revise existing zoning.
After all, county staff used to refer to the Rural Area as “unzoned,” assuming future rezoning for sprawl was inevitable.
However, county residents have supported the Rural Area planning that has been in effect for the last 15 years. The boundary line has been modified only once to permit a major development (Avendale).
Here is a clue about public support for keeping the Rural Area rural: in 2013, only 11 out of the 384 responses suggested the Rural Area should metamorphose into future subdivisions:
UPDATED (November 26): based on the minutes of the November 7 meeting of the 5 agencies signing the Programmatic Agreement, it appears VDOT has been pressured into providing more $$$ for land acquisition to mitigate impacts of Bi-County Parkway. If you’re looking for mitigation of the excessive noise and traffic impacts on Manassas Battlefield Historic District… don’t hold your breath.
There’s movement on the Bi-County Parkway. On November 7, some – but not all – of the potential signers of the Section 106 Programmatic Agreement met.
The standard VDOT response to public opposition is modeled on Muhammed Ali’s strategy in the ring, playing rope-a-dope and extending the decision process until the opposition is too tired to continue. However, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the National Park Service (NPS) are anxious to get the Bi-County Parkway Programmatic Agreement signed before the current governor and his Secretary of Transportation leave office in January. Read more…
by Charlie Grymes
For 15 years, Prince William County has consciously steered most development to the Development Area. Within the Development Area, current planning/zoning will permit development of new houses for the 150,000 new residents expected to arrive by 2030. There is enough undeveloped land within the Development Area, already planned/zoned for new construction, to absorb 20 years of population growth.
Still, some developers are not satisfied. They see an opportunity to bend the rules to their advantage, creating short-term profits while imposing long-term costs on county taxpayers. A few developers want to buy land in the Rural Area, then get county supervisors to rezone the property to permit denser development.
Buying land by the acre and selling it by the square foot could generate a quick profit for a few people. However, scattershot development throughout the Rural Area would require taxpayers to build unplanned schools, fire/police stations, and other public facilities, increasing property taxes forever.
Low-tax advocates want to maintain the logical, planned development in the county, with development steered to the Development Area. Conservationists want to protect open space and streams in the Rural Area, providing wildlife habitat and helping Prince William meet its obligations to send clean water downstream to the Chesapeake Bay. Farmers interested in for-profit agriculture want to preserve opportunities in the Rural Area to lease/acquire enough land to make a farm operation economically viable. Read more…
by Charlie Grymes
In 1998, Supervisors revised the 1990 Comprehensive Plan to encourage high-density development on major chunks of land along Linton Hall and Route 15. More than 60% of the private land in the county was designated as the Development Area. In the last 15 years, Braemar, Kingsbrooke, Dominion Valley, Heritage Hunt, and other subdivisions have been completed in this expanded Development Area.
Expansion of the Development Area was intended to stimulate development of high-value “executive” homes. Tax revenues from low-cost townhomes, the dominant way population growth was accommodated in the 1980’s-1990’s, were too low. New residents had moved into those townhomes, crowding schools, congesting roads, and overwhelming the capability of first responders to provide basic public safety services.
By 1998, local elected officials were tired of increasing taxes to fund expansion of public services in Prince William. Voting for an increase in the property tax does not increase the popularity or re-election potential of county supervisors. Read more…
Prince William Conservation Alliance Book Club had its initial outing on Sunday, October 6 at the Alliance office in Tacket’s Mill. A small number of readers reviewed Richard Preston’s New York times bestseller The Wild Trees, a thoughtful story of several people brought together in their discovery and awe of Coast Redwood trees. These giants can have trunks that are 30 feet wide, and rise more than 35 stories into the sky.
Preston deftly describes, “… their mysterious canopies, rich with hanging gardens, blackened chambers hollowed by fire, and vast, aerial trunk systems fused into bridges and towers”. Overlaying these eloquent descriptions are the stories of Steve Sillet, Marie Antoine and the botanists who discover a lost world above California. A highly recommended book
Our next meeting will December 6, 3:00pm at PWCA’s office in Tackett’s Mill. We will review The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell.
Haskell, who recently spoke at the Arlington Public Library about this book and his discoveries, writes of a yearlong study of a square meter of land in an old growth mountain forest in East Tennessee. It is a series of short chapters describing all that he saw there. The book can be obtained through the Conservation Alliance Amazon portal on our website.
Please join us and share your thoughts on this beautiful book. Save the date and, in the meantime, get The Forest Unseen and become entranced.
by Charlie Grymes
I was invited to participate as a “stakeholder,” at the start of the formal process for developing the Rural Preservation Study. I was one of 33 stakeholders, from 18 organizations. I participated on August 2, 2013, one day after the public kickoff meeting for the Rural Preservation Study at Nokesville Elementary School.
I was invited to be a stakeholder because I serve as the chair of the Prince William Conservation Alliance. PWCA is the only environmental organization in Prince William with full-time staff. For over a decade, the alliance has been a clear voice in the local land use planning process. We speak out regularly about the benefits of smart growth, and how “busting” the Rural Area to permit greater development will inevitably result in higher taxes county-wide.
If you just fell off the back of a turnip truck, you might think the Rural Preservation Study is designed to initiate more protection of open space, to avoid future traffic congestion by steering new housing to be located closer to jobs north/east of Prince William, and to limit increases in the property taxes and sewer/water rates by ensuring future public infrastructure (especially schools/roads) is built in the Development Area.
Yeah, pass me a turnip, please… Read more…