Loudoun to Study Transfer of Development Rights

Loudoun supervisors have asked for a report on the possibility of a transfer of development rights program in the county.

It’s a program that would allow landowners in rural areas to sell credit for the homes they could build on their land to developers in other areas. The county sets up sending and receiving areas for that development density. Transfer of development rights programs been implemented in Loudoun’s neighboring counties and elsewhere across the state and region, but rejected by the county Planning Commission as it works on Loudoun’s new comprehensive plan. Nearby Frederick County and neighboring Montgomery County, MD, both have versions of the program.

In the program, the county government would designate sending and receiving areas for that development density, allowing credits to be sold from rural areas—both protecting those areas from building and providing income for the landowners—and sold to urban areas, allowing developers to build more and concentrate that development.

Supervisors Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) and Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) introduced the proposal.

“We’d like to see as many tools as possible in the toolbox if we’re going to be preserving agriculture, open space, and the rural economy,” Higgins said during the board’s Dec. 4 meeting.

Other supervisors expressed skepticism. Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said he “probably will not support this program,” but needs more information.

“I am really, really concerned about a couple things,” Buona said. “One is, this can take a lot of control and authority away from the Board of Supervisors… The board could get left out of land use decisions they would otherwise be involved in.”

Supervisors worried about losing control over the density of development in the receiving areas.

“I understand the appeal from the western perspective, but from the suburban district perspective, you’re talking about densities that would exceed what the baseline expectation would be in our comprehensive plan,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “Otherwise this doesn’t work, and that’s a really tough sell.”

“It’s a good idea on paper, but I think we have to find out what it looks like in practice,” said County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large).

The Board of Supervisors’ Transportation and Land Use Program will hear a report on a transfer of development rights program and how it might work in Loudoun at a future meeting.

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2 thoughts on “Loudoun to Study Transfer of Development Rights

  • 2018-12-06 at 11:16 am

    Whether it is a Transfer of Development Rights Program or a Purchase of Development Rights program which Loudoun had previously, and is currently “on the books” but unfunded, it is critical one of these tools be included in the new Comprehensive Plan. Loudoun should not “give away” the increased density in the east (which honestly, is probably what will happen with or without a TDR program), but if the the county chooses to build more intensively around the metro corridor, this is a tool that can be used to make sure we don’t add residential development in areas that do not have the infrastructure to support it. Every new single family home in Loudoun is costing the county over $20,000 in capital costs, and then on top of that, the reoccurring costs of the services that new residences demand in terms of fire and rescue, libraries, sheriffs deputies, and the big ticket item, educational costs.
    From an agricultural perspective, this program will keep land available for the next generation of ag entrepreneurs to set up their farming operations in Loudoun to serve our huge market for locally produced food, fiber, and drinks. This will keep dollars circulating in OUR community instead of sending those dollars to other areas, while also keeping our Loudoun tourism industry strong which in turn helps somewhat offset the need for higher property taxes on residences.

    Purchase of Development Rights and/or Transfer of Development rights programs are used by our neighbors in Clarke, Culpeper, Frederick, Stafford, Shenandoah, Spotsylvania, Fauquier, and others in Virginia, as well as Montgomery and Frederick in Maryland, and are being studied in Prince William as well. In addition, even more intensively developed areas in the Commonwealth like Virginia Beach utilize these programs to keep development focused in areas with infrastructure and keep agricultural businesses viable long term in their jurisdictions. There is no magic bullet, but along with private conservation easements, these are all critical tools to keep land available, without which, our ag and tourism economy completely disappears, and the environmental benefits of forest and open space are also lost.

  • 2018-12-07 at 9:35 am

    I moved here from Montgomery County, MD, in 2002 and advocated for TDRs since they were very successful over there, and that was during a period of intense conflict between rural landowners who wanted to develop their lands, and those who wanted to “preserve the viewshed” (i.e. the PEC types) through coercive downzoning. I believe Virginia adopted a TDR law, but it has a lot of restrictions and so a number of Board of Supervisors passed on it — plus, a rural zoning law that settled the 2004 litigation by property rights advocates, plus the drop in the real estate market and foreclosures after 2008, meant development in the West was on hold. Plus, the rural economy in Loudoun has flourished due to the free market — wineries, hops, B&Bs, organic farms, etc. And, the East (as Loudoun Farmer noted) is densifying without TDRs. However, there could be some use for TDRs due to pressure for more housing in Loudoun. But the one thing this board should not do ever is PDRs. PDRs mean using taxpayer money to purchase someone’s land and allowing it to stay in that person’s control — not the control of the taxpayer. If the county does that, it must get control of the land for a public use. At least with TDRs, it’s a private transaction, and it does still allow the governing body to rule on rezonings.

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