The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Stafford planners advance program
BY KATIE THISDELL
A proposal to allow transfer of development rights in Stafford County got the green light from the Planning Commission, despite public concerns over the unintended consequences to preserving land in the now-defunct Crow’s Nest Harbour subdivision.
The pilot land-use program aims to permanently conserve open space while directing development to high-growth areas. It will go before the Board of Supervisors.
If approved, the pilot TDR program would apply only to two specific areas.
Land in the “sending area,” identified as the two peninsulas along the Potomac River between Aquia and Potomac creeks, could be permanently conserved with easements.
Property owners could send the density rights (the ability to build homes on a property) from that land to the “receiving area,” which has been limited to the area currently identified as the Courthouse urban development area, though UDA language was removed from the TDR program.
Up to 491 development rights are eligible.
Under the Planning Commission’s proposal, only lots 20 acres or larger zoned A–2, rural residential, in the sending area are eligible.
That area includes both the Marlborough Point peninsula and the Crow’s Nest Harbour subdivision, which was never developed.
Since the 1960s, the rugged area has been owned by various developers with grand plans. A lack of sewer and water lines has been one factor holding back development there. A handful of limited-liability corporations now own the tracts, which are adjacent to Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve.
The nearly 350 Crow’s Nest Harbour lots would qualify for the TDR zoning requirement.
During Wednesday’s public hearing, former commissioner Cecilia Kirkman said the legislation as written fails to adequately save Crow’s Nest, the historic and environmentally sensitive peninsula in eastern Stafford.
TDR “uses taxpayer dollars to bail out real estate speculators and fails to permanently protect all of Crow’s Nest from development,” Kirkman told the commission.
She asked the county to modify the proposed ordinance and amendment to the Comprehensive Plan.
“As written, the TDR legislation could be gamed to create a subdivision with 10-acre ‘estate’ lots by severing only a portion but not all of the development rights, vacating lot lines, and then creating large lots with one development right attached,” Kirkman said.
Also in opposition to the program was Patrick Coady, chairman of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, which has also worked to preserve Crow’s Nest. He wanted the trust to be able to play a useful role in the conservation and was worried that TDR is not appropriate for the area, compared with areas where the program saves large tracts.
Commissioner Scott Hirons voted against TDR because of concerns that the program takes a “micro-look” at growth, rather than as a real tool to aid in the county’s growth.
“As a whole, this program really isn’t going to do much to save a heck of a lot of land, potentially,” Hirons said.
The TDR program was approved 6–1.
“It’s time to give it a shot at this form we’ve promoted here,” said commissioner Steven Apicella.
“It’ll give us a chance to tweak it with what works and what doesn’t work with very little risk and potentially great benefit.”
Commissioners questioned the possible impacts if the county changes plans to urban development areas, which are no longer state mandated for areas of high projected growth. The Planning Commission will discuss UDAs separately from TDR for the next several months before making a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors in October.
A sunset clause could be added as a separate ordinance, but was not adopted as part of the program. Commissioner Holly Hazard said the five-year expiration clause was critical for TDR to be part of a pilot.
A noticeable change in county land policy as a result of TDR could be the lack of public hearings needed when development rights are added to the receiving areas. For example, for residential zones (R–1) that had a previous allocated density of 1.5 dwelling units per acre, additional development rights could bring that new maximum density to 13.4 dwelling units per acre. Since the project doesn’t need a rezoning to make the change, there would be no public hearing.
If the program is deemed successful, supervisors and commissioners have said that it could be expanded to other areas in the county.
Property owners can apply for a 25-year tax abatement from the commissioner of the revenue, where a portion of the rights would be used to pay the taxes on the total severed rights. Details of the program are still in the works and will be discussed as the recommendation advances to the board.
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975