Centreville To the Editor:
You often don’t hear stories of government actually working well, so I thought people would enjoy hearing about Virginia’s great successes in land preservation.
When I first moved to West Springfield in 1970, I was in third grade and Springfield was the edge of Northern Virginia. We used to play in the woods and in Accotink Creek, which is now Daventry and Greenspring Village. We used to visit the dairy farm, which is now the regional library at Huntsman and Keene Mill. It disappears quickly, and that is why I have dedicated myself to preserving what we have. Over the years, my bills and those that I have helped pass have preserved hundreds of thousands of acres of open space. I can now say that 3.8 million acres, 15 percent of Virginia’s total acreage, has been preserved.
In 1995, only 6,000 acres were being preserved annually. Since the beginning of the 2000s, there are about 72,000 acres preserved each year.
Here’s how we made this happen:
Under Virginia's old land-preservation system, in order to save it, the state would have to buy land outright. This was a very expensive way to preserve land, and in NoVa, where land is so expensive, it practically precluded any land preservation. Many years ago, I led the effort to preserve land through purchasing just the development rights. Under this approach, the state purchases just the development rights. The land owner maintains title to the land, but is restricted in its use and can never develop it. This is known as a “Conservation Easement.” This conservation easement is then recorded in the land records of the court, so at any time in the future, if someone tries to purchase or develop the land, there is a permanent prohibition on development.
By taking the concepts generated in the Land Conservation Easement method outlined above, my fellow General Assembly members and I increased its effectiveness by combining it with tax credits in 1999. This bill allowed a land owner to get a tax credit of 40 percent of the value of his land. After this tax credit bill went into effect, land preservation in Virginia exploded resulting in a 1100 percent increase.