Though he knew the outcome, Supervisor Drew Hiatt (R-Dulles) asked the board to place $2.91 million in proposed open space funds into the county’s general fund.
Hiatt did not want the county to use Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) funds, a tax charged at temporary lodging sites, to support the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program. The PDR program preserves open space through easement purchases on privately owned land when property owners voluntarily agree to sell the rights to develop their land.
At Monday's board meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved a $1.7 million easement purchase on Sage Hill Farm, a 125-acre property on Edwards Ferry Road in Leesburg.
"I don’t oppose PDRs but who’s going to pay for them. It’s a wonderful idea, and there will be good things that will come out of it," Hiatt said. He suggested the county use grants, donations and other private funds to support the program, such as the $1,000 donation the Preservation Society of Loudoun County provided to the county earlier in the meeting, bringing the total financial contribution to $8,995. Also at the meeting, Patric Copeland donated the conservation easement on his family's 115-acre property south of Hillsboro.
"Taxpayers in the east have seen very little from the PDR program," Hiatt said. He received Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling)’s support for his motion to reallocate the PDR funds, as he has in the past for similar requests, but was voted down 6-2-1 with chairman Scott York (R-At large) absent from the vote and from the meeting.
Delgaudio compared the PDR purchase to Santa Claus "coming to town," a line he sang at the meeting to which William Bogard (I-Sugarland Run) commented that it caused him to lose his appetite for lunch. "That would be a wonderful Christmas gift," Delgaudio said. "This board voted to raid the [TOT] funds. It was a raid. The business community has been ignored by this board. The PDR funds are a raid on county taxpayers."
THE FIVE other supervisors who voted in favor of the easement purchase disagreed.
"This will be a gem in Loudoun County," said Charles Harris (D-Broad Run).
The purchase preserves portions of the Battle of Balls Bluff battlefield and protects the last piece of property needed to complete two miles of continuous open space along the Potomac River. The property owner, the Dennis family, agreed as part of the easement to complete and provide public access to the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail in Loudoun County.
The property is the highest ranked property in the history of the PDR program based on its mix of agriculture, historical, natural and scenic qualities, according to the agenda item. The PDR program was established in 2000 to preserve farmland and to protect those qualities.
"We will have a gift for all the people in Loudoun County, particularly for the people who live in crowded areas," said Eleanore Towe (D-Blue Ridge). "That’s why we need these PDR properties protected."
Harris and Towe both said the PDR purchases will save taxpayer expense in the future when the land cannot be developed and will not require any capital and operational costs to the county. Vistas and tourist sites "need to be saved instead of bulldozed," Towe said. "It just makes good sense."
The purchase resulted when landowners withdrew two previous PDR applications and the county failed to receive a National Park Service matching grant. In February 2003, the county paid $2.5 million toward the easement purchase, worth $4.2 million, and sought the various funding sources to complete the purchase. The board supported the purchase with a 6-2-1 vote with Hiatt and Delgaudio voting against.
"What you’re seeing today is the beginning of a debate … anything other than public safety is a waste of money. I hope the next board has a sense of the future," Burton said.
IN OTHER BUSINESS, the Board of Supervisors:
* Directed staff to prepare new regulations on housing that will address residential overcrowding. Delgaudio and other supervisors have receives complaints from residents about the housing of large numbers of individuals who often are unrelated in one house, resulting in cars blocking streets, large amounts of trash in front of homes and decayed housing quality, as stated in the information item.
"This is to deal with the extremes. It’s not to be applied in every circumstance," Delgaudio said.
Delgaudio contacted Herndon officials who had faced the same problem several years ago. They provided him with a copy of changes to the town code that limit the number of people in a home per square foot of sleeping space. "We can tighten or loosen this up," Delgaudio said.
Hiatt asked for a friendly amendment to exclude the men’s homeless shelter, operated by the Good Shepherd Alliance, Inc., from any of the regulations. Delgaudio accepted.
"Mr. Delgaudio’s intent is to go after those people who over occupy homes," Hiatt said. "There are fire and rescue concerns in homes like that."
* Approved three of the Economic Development Commission's recommendations concerning work force housing, as outlined in a July report, "Workforce Housing: Affordable Housing to Strengthen Loudoun's Business Community."
The board directed staff to develop a Housing Advisory Board by fall 2004, outlining its membership, by-laws and operating procedures. The other recommendations include the county's partnering with the Industrial Development Authority (IDA), which would serve as a housing authority and act as the financing arm to stimulate affordable housing construction, and establishing a Loudoun Housing Trust to provide a dedicated funding source for housing initiatives. A full-time staff person will be hired to help carry out the recommendations, funded through an IDA grant and local tax funds.
* Approved amendments to the recently adopted Solid Waste Management Plan that will prohibit burning of the construction and demolition waste and of vegetative and yard waste brought to the landfill and increase regulations of dirt waste. Permit fees will be charged to offset the costs of processing and land filling dirt waste.
"Dirt is dirt. Trash is trash. Dirt is a common sense item. Dirt is not trash," said Douglass Johnston of Ticonderoga Farm during public comment, adding that the amendments will add to the costs of school construction. Staff said the county is exempt from paying fees to itself but will not be exempt from the regulations.
* Heard a report on Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)'s snow removal costs from Farid Bigdeli, transportation manager for Loudoun County.
In the past five years, VDOT's average expenditure in the Northern Virginia district was $24.07 million with the largest amount allotted in 2003 at $48.6 million. The 2004 proposed budget is for $23.8 million for an expected mild winter. Each district is allocated a budget based on the five-year average.