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Board OKs Transfer of Development Rights

The County Board has given itself the authority to transfer development rights between parcels of land in Arlington, in a move county officials said would provide for the preservation of more open space and creation of a greater number of affordable units.

THE BOARD voted unanimously during its Feb. 28 meeting to codify the zoning amendment, which will allow board members to approve the shift of density from one piece of property to another as part of the site plan process.

Though the board adopted the new ordinance, additional work is needed to fully develop the details. The county staff will now begin drafting guidelines for how it will be implemented.

"This is the green light to give us the power to use it," County Board member Barbara Favola said. "We're not saying how we are going to use it."

By being able to move density between different sites, the county stands a better chance of preserving historic buildings, creating more parks and retaining affordable units, county officials said.

"As preservation of affordable housing becomes more important, we need to have every tool we can to achieve our community objectives," County Manager Ron Carlee said.

But most speakers at the County Board meeting criticized the decision, arguing that the board should have delayed passing the measure until the county staff fleshed out the details and the public had a better understanding of how the process would work.

"I'm not against [transfer of development rights], but I just don't see the urgency of pushing this amendment through until we know the details and how the program will be implemented," said Sean Hosty, chairman of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

IN MARCH 2005 the Virginia General Assembly granted the county the authority to allow for transfer of development rights.

Arlington was the only jurisdiction in the state to receive this power, and has until 2008 to change its zoning ordinance.

The board took the unusual step of approving the measure without a complete set of regulations because it feared that the General Assembly might rescind the authority.

"This gives us the ability to have a discussion without worrying about what the General Assembly will do, or running the risk of having it pre-empted by further legislation," County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said.

Board members agreed not to use their new power until after the details of the ordinance have been proposed by staff and vetted by the public.

Carlee said he hopes this would occur by December, but admitted that the process could take up to 18 months as it goes through a public review.

"I look forward to this process evolving, hopefully to a consensus," Zimmerman said. "But perhaps it goes no where."

Board member Paul Ferguson said it is unlikely the new authority would be used on more than one or two projects per year.

Yet that statement did not reassure many in the audience of the Feb. 28 board meeting. Several speakers castigated the board for passing the zoning amendment without the usual amount of public input.

"In my 16 years of activism I have never seen such an important item with a flimsy staff report come up on such a fast track," said John Antonelli.