Preservation efforts gain traction with Loudoun supervisors’ votes


virginia logoIn a Dec. 4 meeting, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors approved two conservation initiatives proposed to help preserve the county’s rural areas.

In a vote of 8-1, the board authorized implementation of a 2019 grant program to offset costs associated with putting land under a conservation easement. In a 9-0 vote they approved a request for a study of the potential for a county transfer of development rights program.

Chris Van Vlack, a Loudoun hay producer and president of Loudoun County Farm Bureau, said he is “very excited, cautiously optimistic but still realistic” about the news.

Van Vlack described the conservation easement grant program as “a great little foot-in-the-water kind of test,” given that it will benefit 10 landowners in its first year. “But it’s definitely a good thing and a good first step.”

Loudon Farm Bureau is one of several organizations that have formed the non-partisan alliance Save Rural Loudoun.

In a Dec. 5 Facebook post, Save Rural Loudoun told its supporters that the county government “is responding to all of you who have expressed the importance of preserving Loudoun’s unique rural countryside.”

Loudoun’s Conservation Easement Stewardship Program, under which landowners could sell rights to develop their property to the county, was defunded in 2004.

Moving forward, Van Vlack noted, “I think the biggest thing that needs to happen … in order to have a TDR or PDR (purchase of development rights) program is that it has to be in the comprehensive plan when that gets finalized.”

Loudoun’s comprehensive plan is being updated, and county supervisors are expected to review a final draft of the new plan in early 2019.

Conservation easements are agreements between landowners and local governments or nonprofit organizations to permanently limit development on a property. Costs associated with putting a conservation easement in place include appraisals and financial and legal services.

Transfer of development rights programs are voluntary, incentive-based efforts that allow landowners to sell development rights from their land to a developer or other interested party who can use the rights to increase the density of development at another designated location.

Loudoun is roughly half rural, with more than 1,400 farms that generate more than $37 million annually. Since 2010, the county’s population has increased 27 percent, to more than 380,000. Loudoun has lost 72,000 acres of farmland in the past 30 years.

County staff reported that Loudoun is one of the top three counties in Virginia in the number of conservation easements—about 750—and total acres under conservation easements.

Details of the conservation easement assistance program and transfer of development rights study are available on the county website at loudoun.gov/3426/Board-of-Supervisors-Meetings-Packets.



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