Have a Say on PDRs

Purchase of development rights (PDRs) refer to programs in which landowners are paid for giving up the rights to develop their property through the use of easements. These programs are voluntary. Most people would agree that we need effective tools to save land from overdevelopment. The concept of PDRs is not new and, although gaining favor, remains controversial in Virginia. PDRs permanently limit nonagricultural land uses and can help to keep the cost of services down.

However, PDRs raise serious funding issues about whether landowners should be paid not to develop their land and whether monies earmarked for PDRs could go to wealthy landowners who have no intention of developing their land. Are PDRs a good thing? Are taxpayers willing to take on an additional tax burden to save land from development? And are there ways of acquiring PDRs without the added tax implications?

At the direction of the Board of Supervisors and for the past several months, the Purchase of Development Rights Design Team, a subcommittee of the Open Space Advisory Committee, has been grappling with these issues. On Dec. 1, the subcommittee will present a PDR program to the Board of Supervisors for their possible adoption. The program will set out PDR criteria and funding ideas not only for preservation of farmland but also for open space, natural resource and heritage resource preservation.

Two public input sessions have been scheduled to give citizens an opportunity to learn about PDRs and to provide the subcommittee with feedback on the draft programs. The first will take place at 7 p.m. Oct. 28 at Blue Ridge Middle School in Purcellville. The second will take place at 7 p.m. Nov. 4 at Farmwell Station Middle School in Ashburn.

PDR programs have been slow to take in the commonwealth. Loudoun County is only one of four jurisdictions actively looking at PDRs. Virginia Beach acquired its first easement in 1997 and has put 4,500 acres of farmland under easement at a cost of $10.2 million funded by a 1.5 percent tax. In Albemarle County, the Board of Supervisors has earmarked $1 million for FY 1999-2000 to purchase development rights and has directed the design of its implementation plan. James City has set aside $2.45 million for PDR acquisition over the next five years and is working on administration of its program. One cent of the real estate tax in James City goes to PDRs.

But raising taxes is not the only way to fund PDRs. Although limited, there are several other sources to help pay for PDRs. For example, many landowners are still unfamiliar with estate planning that could save them taxes in return for donating agricultural and other types of conservation easements to their communities.

Most Loudoun County residents would be shocked to see the current densities planned throughout Loudoun County. Even the agricultural zoning of A-3 allows conversion of farmland to one house per three acres. Loudoun County has a unique vision of cultivating a strong, viable world-class rural economy alongside its prestigious world-class corporations. If we are serious about saving our very best soils for crop production rather than having that land go to home construction, we need to examine the benefits PDRs provide.

I encourage you to attend one of the community input sessions and let us know your opinions on PDRs.


Subcommittee Chairwoman


Growth Scales Unbalanced

Nathaniel Grant, of Sterling, is sure a bully on growth ("Growth Is Good Business," Letters, Oct. 3). His letter was nothing if not a song of praise for human procreation and small-business enterprises. In and of themselves, these things are neither good nor bad, just basic human endeavors.

However, being a successful marriage partner, parent and a successful small-business operator are no small accomplishments. Growth is much the same. It is basically neither good nor bad. It is neutral. It is when this neutrality is thrown out of balance that the adjectives of good and bad can be applied.

It is in the balance where Mr. Grant leaves much unsaid in his paean to growth. His first point, though, is as moot as it is obvious. It only stands to reason that if we weren't here, we wouldn't have to worry about the effects of ourselves. On the rest of his points, Mr. Grant is being a Pollyanna in his lopsided praise.

I don't know if I would classify people who support smart-growth candidates as sheep, but I sure can see that the majority of Loudoun's citizens are getting fleeced and shorn by the negative effects of much of the growth that Mr. Grant approves of.

People who support slow growth or smart growth are not saying stop growth, as Mr. Grant states. They are not seeking to wreck the plans of small businesses or tar and feather developers. Rather, many citizens recognize that the system is very much out of balance, and they want to get the system more toward that neutral point on the scale.

There will have to be give-and-take and sacrifices made on each side of the issue. But for too long, growth has been tilted against the citizenry and become dangerous to the stability of the community.

Mr. Grant wants Loudoun to be a proud leader in education. Historically, Loudoun has always valued and spent heavily on education, as Mr. Grant knows, being a lifelong resident. But how do we maintain the quality of that educational system when, because of the overly rapid growth that Mr. Grant praises, the children are overflowing the school buildings and being crammed into trailers?

How do we come up with the money to pay for the 22 schools and the teachers that will be needed to handle the projected future influx of new students? Perhaps Mr. Grant wouldn't mind if the small-business taxes were raised 30, 40 or 50 percent to help plug the funding gap because many developers don't have to proffer due to the way the zoning regulations have been gutted.

I'm sure that as a successful small businessman and concerned citizen, he'll want to do his part. The large techno-corporations that have moved here and that Mr. Grant touts with pride could be a plus for the county if they act responsibly toward the community where they've moved. However, some of them have demonstrated a propensity for trying to weasel out of paying their fair share of the taxes and fees to help defray the costs to the county of their locating here.

Finally, one of Mr. Grant's points is very disturbing. He implies that citizens supporting smart growth are a vocal rabble, beyond the pale and not to be considered as "productive" residents. A "few squeaky wheels" as he refers to them.

His solution is that they should go--"Loudoun: Love it or leave it." Not a very generous or productive attitude. After all, it can be equally proposed that Mr. Grant should move out and set up his business elsewhere.

It's not just a few squeaky wheels. I believe that a majority of citizens wants a Board of Supervisors and county staff that are fair-minded and firm about growth. They want developers to develop, large quality businesses to locate and small ventures to succeed. But they also want them to pay their fair share of the costs that this growth causes, and not to wiggle out of the responsibility and leave the bulk of the burden on the average citizen to make up the shortfall. They also want a new board that will be committed to, and state clearly as one of its first acts, that the lax and loose style toward protecting the citizens' interests and the loopholes and gutted zoning regulations are over. They want enlightened moderation. There are plenty of opportunities for small businesses under the banner of smart growth.



Stifle the Political Horn

I, too, attended two back-to-school nights at the same school ["School Board Out of Order," Letters, Oct. 3] and found that the time spent on political horn-blowing was excruciating. By the time we were released to go and spend some time with our kids in their new school, we were all burned out. I thought the night was to unite us as families and students. I feel the evening presentations would have been more stimulating and beneficial if they had been from student clubs and activity leaders or something that really had to do with the students.



Clarifying Bond Stance

Ms. [Bonnie S.] Tyrrell ["School Bond Not Wasteful," Letters, Oct. 21] missed several points in my earlier letter about the school bond issue and the intermediate school. A key one concerns how the problem of overcrowding in the west of the county is being handled as compared to the east.

Ms. Tyrrell writes about how for years her taxes have gone to building schools in the east. What happened when those schools opened? The boundaries between schools and the boundaries between clusters (a grouping of several elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school) were changed. In the Capital Improvement Program (CIP), when the number of students projected to attend a school drops by several hundred and the footnote says this is due to another school opening, what it should say is that several hundred families just changed neighborhoods. There are no guarantees about what schools a student will attend. My two children will likely each attend two different high schools, though that is not as bad as what some parents and students have gone through.

What this says is that the Loudoun County public school administration considers boundary changes as a regularly used tool to manage the growth in the student population--except for the west of the county. We can establish this point by looking at the CIP and noting the excess capacity in the Loudoun County cluster after the next several schools are built. The overcrowding at Blue Ridge and Loudoun Valley can be relieved by a boundary change.

Ms. Tyrrell is correct in noting that students attending Lovettsville Elementary should not be bused to Leesburg for middle school or high school. Some of the students in Waterford, Middleburg and the areas just east of Hamilton should be.

She was incorrect to conclude that building the intermediate school in the west is the same as building any school in the east. Building a $24 million school to alleviate a problem (overcrowding) when a solution is available that does not require this expense (boundary change) is not reasonable. But it is preferential treatment. And the school bond should be rejected.




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