The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors this week, in a 5-to-3 vote, adopted a controversial plan to preserve farms and open space.

The board's Monday action was followed by loud cheers and applause. Many who were in the large audience are farmers and members of the citizens committee that drafted the plan and who earlier in the meeting had urged adoption of the plan as a way to control the loss of farms and open space to development.

Although the 258-page plan holds nearly a dozen recommendations for preserving open land, discussion this week, as in recent months, focused on one element of the plan: a Transferrable Development Rights (TDR) program.

The program, designed to direct growth to urban areas, would establish a landowner's right to subdivide as a commodity that could be sold, without selling the land itself.

For instance, a farmer could sell development rights to a developer, who would use those rights to increase the number of houses on his urban property. The farmer's land would no longer be subject to development, and the farmer could use the profits from the development potential of his land to continue farming.

The supervisors voting against adoption of the Rural Land Management Plan -- Broad Run Supervisor Steven Stockman, Catoctin Supervisor Frank Lambert and Sterling Supervisor Andrew R. Bird III -- objected to inclusion of the TDR program.

The same supervisors in January voted against a draft version of enabling legislation for the program. The county plans to seek authority to implement the program from the state legislature again in the upcoming session.

Among the supervisors' criticisms this week was one from Bird that any money spent on the TDR program would "cost the citizens, in terms of a capital facility loss," that a developer might otherwise have offered the county as a proffer, such as road improvements or open space for parks or school sites that developers frequently propose in order to gain permission for extra density.

Bird also said the program would place the county's "land use decisions on autopilot."

Bird said the TDR program would be government by county ordinance, in what a county planner said would be "more of an automatic process" than a similar program, density transfer.

Density transfers would be regulated under the county's rezoning process with the usual review of proffers and board approval, if the requested density increase met county standards.

Before this week, the plan would have required any developer seeking a certain higher density level to go through the TDR process.

However, before adopting the plan this week, the supervisors amended it to include a second alternative for a developer seeking the higher density level.

According to the amendment, a developer, if seeking the higher density during a rezoning application, could propose alternative proffers that did not include the use of TDRs. The county would then decide whether to accept a TDR proffer or the alternative proffer, such as capital improvements, in return for increased density.