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TDRs: An essential tool in managing growth

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 12:00 am

WHILE it may not be immediately obvious, signs of the economic recovery are becoming more apparent in Stafford County. New development is returning and is visible in many parts of the county. As those who experienced the rapid growth periods of the previous two decades, economic recovery invariably results in residential development.

The number of new residential permits issued in Stafford County this year has already surpassed every year’s since 2005. In the last year alone, the number of permits issued for new residential units in Stafford has risen 55 percent. In 2013, we are on track to issue more than double the number of permits issued in 2011. While these increases are coming off some lows in recent history, the trend is clear: Demand for residential growth is returning—rapidly.

 Just saying “no” to new residential development is not a solution. Not only is such a policy legally prohibited in Virginia, it is woefully ineffective. The result of taking a hard-line stand prohibiting development is invariably failure, coupled with the expense of big legal bills. For local government, it is the ultimate “lose–lose” scenario.

Much of the growth in rural areas is categorized as “by-right,” meaning county government can neither prevent it nor influence it. Spurred by the need to adopt policies that could effectively manage growth and preserve Stafford’s rural and environmentally sensitive areas, the Board of Supervisors adopted other methods that would focus development on those areas that could best support it.

The county initiated trial programs to use tools like Transfers of Development Rights, which limit development in areas where it would be least desirable and place it in areas with the infrastructure necessary to support growth. Another of those tools, Purchases of Development Rights, has already saved 100 acres, with three more farms slated for preservation by next year.

Now, as we are at the beginning of another period of growth, some of the same voices that opposed the PDR and other measures that were successfully used to preserve Crow’s Nest have returned to oppose TDRs.

Their overall opposition to TDRs is based on the fact that these tools still allow for growth—just not in environmentally sensitive areas or in areas where the infrastructure doesn’t exist to support it.

So, their solution to looming residential development is to oppose any policies that permit it.

While saying “no” to residential development may satisfy their instincts, it is not a solution. Rather, it is an exercise in futility. By employing tools like TDRs, we can focus the growth in areas that can support it, and preserve the rural character of those parts of the county that now enjoy it.

The result of employing TDRs in these circumstances brings multiple benefits. By focusing development in areas where the infrastructure to support it already exists, the growth in long-term expenses of providing residential services for county government—and, therefore, taxpayers—is dramatically reduced. But, there are also quality of life issues: A school bus ride for a child living in rural Stafford is now over an hour in many cases.

The Planning Commission recently voted 5-to-2 to extend the TDR program. Now, its continuation moves to the Board of Supervisors. While it may be tempting to reject this tool because it allows some growth, doing so endangers the gains Stafford has achieved over the last eight years in preserving the natural beauty of our county.

We can retain the natural beauty of Stafford County and ensure our picturesque areas remain untouched for generations to come. But, we must do so in a legal manner that respects individual property rights and doesn’t expect taxpayers to foot the bill. TDRs are an effective way to do just that. As we emerge from a recession and face the pressures of growth, we must not abandon this vital tool to managing growth.

Paul V. Milde III currently represents Aquia District on the Stafford County Board of Supervisors.