Loudoun County must take a range of actions to preserve its remaining farmland and countryside. The more “tools in the toolbox,” the more likely it is that these actions will effectively address the principle threats to rural preservation.
That said, some “tools” are fundamentally more important and more effective than others. Unless Loudoun reduces the residential density of rural cluster subdivisions and prevents prime farmland in those subdivisions from being destroyed (items 1 and 2, below), the other rural preservation tools listed below will be insufficient.
Because we are continuously losing valuable farmland and other rural areas, the County must have a sense of urgency about taking strong action to achieve its rural policy goals.
Save Rural Loudoun has identified seven policy priorities for 2020 (click here for the full pdf version).
Cluster Subdivision Zoning: Significantly reduce the number of new houses that may be built in rural cluster subdivisions. At a minimum, Loudoun should align its cluster subdivision densities with those of neighboring counties so as to remove commercial incentives to prioritize development of rural Loudoun.
Preservation of Prime Farmland: Rural zoning rules should require that prime farmland be preserved on “rural economy lots” that are viable for commercial farming (and not be permanently destroyed under houses, driveways and drainfields).
Purchase of Development Rights (PDR): The County should re-establish its lapsed PDR program, under which landowners could voluntarily sell development rights to the County while continuing to own their land under permanent conservation easement. (Click here for more detailed information on how PDR works).
Protection of Water Resources: Applications for new rural developments should be approved only if they can demonstrate that groundwater will be protected from contamination and the supply of water to neighboring properties will not be affected.
Transfer of Development Rights (TDR): The County should establish a TDR program that would require developers requesting “bonus” density for new developments in urban areas to purchase development rights from landowners in designated rural areas. (Click here for more detailed information on how TDR works.)
Strengthened Zoning Enforcement: The County should authorize its staff (and provide them with the necessary resources) to proactively monitor compliance with County zoning and land use regulations.
Mitigation of Conflicts of Interest in County Decision-Making: Strengthen the County’s Conflict of Interest rules to ensure that members of the County’s decision-making bodies do not have personal financial interests in the outcomes of those decisions. Save Rural Loudoun is pleased that, beginning in 2020, the County has stressed that County advisory bodies serve as “sounding boards” and do not have decision-making authority.
Interested citizens can encourage the County to take these and other actions by calling or writing their individual supervisors or all the members of the Board of Supervisors collectively. Their contact information is at: https://www.loudoun.gov/86/Board-of-Supervisors.