The Rural Crescent Review – Keep Your Eye on the Process

Nokesville farm

Reconstituting the County’s Agricultural and Forestral District Advisory Committee is the talk of the town in the Brentsville District and east Prince William residents should be interested too. The Prince William Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) is set to unveil a slate of nominees that would revive this currently dormant committee, withith little or no debate.

Right now the committee’s sole purpose is to determine whether a property should enter or leave Prince William County Agricultural and Forestral District. The County Agricultural and Forestral Disrict covers 2,200 acres or 0.01% of the County. Properties included within the district are given special tax breaks as an incentive for agricultural production.

This all sounds pretty hohum, but don’t fall asleep yet: the current discussion focuses on expanding the role of this committee to advise the Board of County Supervisors on an un-named new set of issues.

Ideally, the Committee would provide an expert opinion on clean water, prime farmland and other soil issues. This service, perhaps better suited to a soil scientist, was in fact a service provided by the Prince William Soil & Water Conservation District until 2009.

Unfortunately, there are concerns this committee is being reformed to approve policies that would reduce open agricultural land and open space in the Rural Crescent. This could include recommending incentives to develop within the Rural Crescent.

Currently three incentive programs included in the Study Report are being discussed:

  1. Cluster development – This policy would increase the requirement for open space for residential properties in the Rural Crescent from 50% to 60% but would also Access to public sewer would be allowed for properties where cluster development can “advance preservation of open space and help protect the environment,” which would cover pretty much everywhere. For perspective, Fauquier County requires 85% permanently protected open space for cluster developments. This option would require a County investment to fund new public sewer lines, roads, and schools in the Rural Crescent, which would surely create an increased tax burden for all citizens.
  2. Purchase of Development Rights – would establish a fund and criteria to prioritize investments to permanently buy development rights, leaving those properties available for purchase by farmers or others at conservation prices. This option would require a local investment to fund the program as well as a staff position to manage the program and attract matching funds, primarily from other government bodies.
  3. Transfer of Development Rights – would allow landowners in a designated (sending) area to sell their development rights to developers with projects in a defined (receiving) area such as the Route 1 corridor. This option would allow receiving areas to increase their density. This increased density offer requires significant infrastructure improvements in receiving areas, where residents already feel overburdened by inadequate infrastructure and high costs.

All three options require a local investment. Only one – Purchase of Development Rights – does not involve increases in residential densities.

The Rural Crescent is an Urban Growth Boundary intended to minimize taxpayer investments for new infrastructure by directing new development to areas where it is cheaper and easier to improve roads, schools, and other community needs. Over the years, residents have made their support for the Rural Crescent clear at public hearings, community meetings and in county surveys.

The changes being considered for the Rural Crescent will affect all Prince William County taxpayers. Any process that limits participation for most County residents to three minutes at a public hearing while expanding opportunities for a small pre-selected group is unlikely to result in a proposal that can achieve countywide support.

Where do you choose to invest your tax dollars? Tell supervisors that any official review of Rural Preservation Study proposals should involve an inclusive process of public involvement, even before any proposals are considered by the Planning Commission.

 

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