For the first time in over 20 years, Prince William County has added to its land preservation toolbox, with the unanimous adoption of a Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program, which would compensate farmers and other large landowners (40 acres minimum) who elect to sever their development rights and place land in permanent conservation easements. This popular measure had long been in a holding pattern, with previous Boards taking an “all or nothing” approach to rural land policies.
“Inaction over the years has cost us thousands of acres of rural land. We must do something to protect our remaining open space, even as we continue to finetune other preservation tools,” said Supervisor Kenny Boddye.
Planning staff reported that the nearly 14,000 acres of rural land had been carved into 10-acre lots between 2009 and 2019. Meanwhile, the amount of acreage being actively farmed in the County dropped by 70% since 2002, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Some local farmers cite this residential encroachment as a factor.
“A PDR program is an important first step. The next, as we adopt more preservation tools, is to acknowledge that there are green spaces and rural areas all throughout the county that are just as worthy of protecting. It is time to stop pitting west against east, working together to holistically protect our County’s natural resources.”
The Supervisors were also unanimous in declaring the Rural Preservation Study commissioned in 2014 as outdated. Boddye issued a series of directives meant to give staff guidance on elements of the study that the Board would like to see brought back quickly—such as adopting a set of “Rural Character” design standards and creating an economic development position to support the new Agriculture & Arts Overlay District—and those that would require more refinement, such as Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). The directives, outlined below, also direct staff to expand the preservation scope to the Count as a whole:
- Recommend implementation strategies on the following sections of the Rural Area Plan CPA: Rural Character; Rural Economic Development; Environment, Open Space and Recreation; Rural Infrastructure; and Public Facilities.
- Create an interconnected open space vision for the whole County, to include holistic land preservation and trail development planning. Look to all areas for additional Open Space Corridors and synergy with the County’s scenic byway network, culminating in an Open Space Master Plan.
- Identify funding for an agri-business/agritourism staff position within the Economic Development Department and for formulating a Rural Economic Development Plan.
- Ensure that Rural Infrastructure contemplates street lights and pedestrian-friendly shoulders on major rural roadways.
- Identify opportunities to fill gaps in high speed broadband and cellular tower coverage, particularly in underserved rural areas.
- Update the Comprehensive Plan to include consideration of a Metro Stop near Potomac Mills, in light of new density potential from a TDR Program and recent state-level support for studying Metro extension into Prince William.
- Develop strategies to identify, highlight and preserve burial grounds and cemeteries, to include those of historic African American and Native American communities.
- Evaluate areas beyond the Rural Area as appropriate for PDR Program eligibility.
- Begin immediate research into funding mechanisms for the PDR Program.
- Identify appropriate sending areas for a TDR program.
- Analyze the existing Rural Cluster Ordinance and come back with recommendations to increase flexibility and utility.
“We are finally positioning ourselves to truly embrace smart growth principles, to include protecting contiguous, accessible open space,” said Boddye of Tuesday’s decision. “I look forward to working with residents, County staff and my colleagues in creating a holistic, sustainable preservation framework for our entire community.”