Supervisor Drew Hiatt (R-Dulles) wanted to put an end to the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) Program, a move that seven other supervisors voted down at the Dec. 16 board meeting.
"Everybody here thinks my motive is to kill the program. I believe firmly in this program," said chairman Scott York (R-At large), who voted against Hiatt’s motion. "It’s a tool for us to use ... but we have to give consideration to where the budget is at."
At a previous board meeting, York asked the board to put a freeze on the PDR program until the county's budget situation improves. The PDR program allows the county to purchase easements or development rights from property owners in order to protect open space, preserve natural and historic resources and enhance the county’s rural economy.
The agenda item for the Dec. 16 meeting addressed funding of the program and asked whether the board wanted to direct staff to continue acquiring development rights from seven property owners who signed letters of intent to participate in the program, which was established in Loudoun County in 2000.
YORK’S AGENDA ITEM packed the board room Monday morning with the majority of the 38 residents who signed up to speak addressing the PDR program. Those speaking against the program said PDRs devalue land and are a cost to taxpayers. Those in favor said the program preserves scenic, historic and cultural properties; preserves land essential to the agricultural and tourism industries; and helps protect land values by preserving open space.
"We are deeply concerned the PDR program is in jeopardy. Keep it in place to save what remains of Loudoun’s rich rural landscape," said David Boyce of Leesburg.
Hiatt asked for an alternate motion to end the PDR program and return unspent PDR funds to the general fund. "We have to make drastic decisions," he said about the county’s unemployment rate and the higher taxes residents are facing [this year and next]."
Hiatt’s motion failed 7-2 with Hiatt and Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) voting in favor.
"We have a moral obligation to complete the negotiations we have begun with property owners," said James Burton (I-Mercer). "That’s a difficult decision. Once you made it, you made it and it’s done."
SO FAR, the county has appropriated $8.98 million in county funds for the PDR purchases, including $8 million from the general fund and $980,000 from the unrestricted Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT). This year, the county will provide $5.2 million that, with $2.1 million in grants and $2.8 million in property owner donations, will give the county nearly a $1 per $1 match — a total of $10.1 million in funds for the PDR program. The funds will be used to purchase easement rights from as many as seven properties that total 2,073 acres and include more than 2,000 acres of farmland and open space.
"We have a really good set of candidates this time," said Mike Kane, PDR program manager. "We’re getting a lot of public access with these properties. ... We have more properties, more acreage in developed areas of the county."
More than half of the PDR applications offer to provide public access, including two public access easements along the Potomac Heritage Trail. Two of the properties are located in development districts with 9.1 acres near the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail in the Suburban Policy Area and 125 acres in the Leesburg Joint Land Management Area (JLMA), the last property the county needs to preserve a two-mile continuous corridor of open space from Balls Bluff to Red Rocks regional parks.
"With the type of resources we’re able to protect through the program, there’s really some gems," Kane said.
The PDR applications are expected to come before the board for review and action early next year. In February of this year, the board allocated $4.4 million for the purchase of nine easements totaling 1,748 acres, in addition to $2 million in grants and donations. Eight of the easements were actually purchased or are being finalized at a cost of $3.8 million. The ninth property was sold to developers.
"The lesson we learned this year is that these properties are threatened by development as evidenced by the loss of the Boyd property," Kane said. "If we really think these properties are gems, this is a way to protect them. Zoning is temporary. These easements are permanent."
IN OTHER BUSINESS, the board:
* Approved the Moorefield Station rezoning application for property located on the southwest side of the Dulles Greenway north of Loudoun County Parkway. The Claude Moore Charitable Foundation applied to rezone 591 acres from a CR-1 (Countryside Residential) zoning district to a PD-TRC (Planned Development — Transit Related Center) zoning district for a mixed-use development of 6,000 residential units, 9.7 million square feet of office space and various retail uses.
* Agreed to direct county staff to conduct a preliminary study of possible equestrian trail sites to submit to the Transportation Committee in January 2003. The board accepted the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority’s proposal to give the county an existing 30-foot trail easement through the Lowes Island Golf Course.
* Allocated $15,000 in TOT funds for a county July Fourth celebration and fireworks show at the Dulles Town Center. The county agreed to subsidize the cost of the fireworks and Lerner Group would provide the space for the show.