According to the Rural Crescent study report, online here, public input showed a strong consensus on the importance of maintaining a rural area in Prince William County.
The report recognizes that Rural Area and Development Area policies and outcomes are interconnected. It identifies agricultural land as a high priority for action and warns that, without policy changes, Prince William’s Rural Area will likely develop in a manner dominated by large lot residential development, with little contiguous open space and significant loss of agricultural lands.
A multi-pronged approach is recommended to “protect 60% of the remaining undeveloped land in the Rural Area,” approximately 17,000 acres, that includes:
- A purchase of development rights program (PDR) to compensate landowners and keep land in productive use, with $5 million in funds for the beginning program;
- A transfer of development rights program (TDR), a private transaction similar to PDR;
- Revisions and incentives for cluster development in areas dominated by farming.
These are all important tools. However, the recommendation to incentivize cluster development raises concerns… recommendations to add more houses and extend public sewer, roads and other infrastructure do not “preserve” a rural area.
As noted by Tom Daniels, University of Penn. Professor and consultant for this project, cluster development is not a form of farmland preservation, but rather a suburban type of development aimed at allowing residential development while protecting some open space and “rural character.”1
He warns that the ultimate result may be “clusters of suburban communities with a modicum of open space between them, rather than a working rural landscape with active commercial farm operations.”2
The report also proposes the creation of a new “Transitional Ribbon,” which ignores the role of the existing SRR zone in the Development Area and would relocate the transition area inside the Rural Crescent, decreasing the total area planned for rural land uses.
The critical component of land preservation is through PDR and TDR programs. Without those programs in place, the study recommendations are a house of cards waiting to topple the unique qualities of Prince William County, leaving tax payers to fund the cost of building infrastructure where none previously existed.
Granted, funding a PDR program is an expensive venture with noteworthy benefits. Investments that protect open space, including farmland, allow localities to concentrate infrastructure improvements in targeted areas, where costs to expand are significantly less than costs to build and maintain new roads, schools, parks, and libraries in rural areas.
When one considers the County’s current $237+ million budget for existing infrastructure improvements, a $5 million investment to permanently protect green open space begins to sound reasonable.
Are you ready to get something for your money? Prince William County’s Rural Crescent has reached a critical juncture, with few large parcels remaining to support farming, protect our scenic countryside and safeguard important environmental resources in the headwaters of the Occoquan Reservoir.
Are we ready to invest in a high quality County or continue to prioritize incentives for new residential development projects?
1 Thomas Daniels and Mark Lapping, Land Preservation: An Essential Ingredient in Smart Growth. University of Pennsylvania Scholarly Commons; January 1 2005
2 Thomas Daniels, Where does cluster zoning fit in farmland protection? Journal of the American Planning Association; Winter 1997