For conservationists and fiscal conservatives, Prince William County’s protection of its rural area against development prevents sprawl and preserves rural beauty.

For rural landowners and developers, the policy is seen as an arbitrary land grab by an antiquated and draconian county policy.

While a $60,000 Prince William County study commissioned by a unanimous vote of the Board of County Supervisors Tuesday won’t solve that debate, it will give residents and county officials a sense of whether the county’s rural-area policies are working as intended and identify additional tools the county can use to preserve rural land.

A need for a study most recently came up when Supervisor Martin E. “Marty” Nohe (R-Coles) halted a development proposal for 102 homes in the middle part of the county that also offered to permanently preserve more than 300 acres of rural area land.

Nohe said in March that he couldn’t let the proposal go forward. “We need to look at the bigger picture ... and look at what makes sense for the whole county,” he said then of the 80,000-acre area of the county set aside in the 1990s and known as the Rural Crescent.

The county will choose an outside consultant to produce the study since it doesn’t have the expertise or resources to do the study on its own, said Chris Price, the county’s director of planning.

The county also commissioned a $75,000 study to detail what a 34-square-mile area along Route 1 called Potomac Communities should look like. The area includes north Woodbridge, Neabsco Mills and Triangle.

As the county’s long-range planning document admits, “Most people see a tired commuter corridor, lined with utility poles, signs, and highway-oriented businesses – an area in need of a facelift.”

The county’s new study would pinpoint how the county can encourage new development in an area that doesn’t see much.

“We don’t have anything to say, ‘How should it look?’” Price said in an interview. The study should address many of those questions and signal developers what county officials are looking for, he said.