In 2015, after years of discussion and debate by the Stafford County Board of Supervisors, the Board amended the County’s comprehensive plan to allow the implementation of a transfer-of-development-rights (TDR) program. By a 4-to-3 vote, a divided Board of Supervisors approved the TDR program as an Aquia District-only pilot.
Despite being restricted to a fraction of the County, the TDR program shows impressive results six years after its approval. Stafford recently preserved over 1,300 acres of previously developable land adjacent to the Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve using the program. Two large tracts with hundreds of undeveloped developable lots are no longer eligible for development.
The immediate proximity of the land to Crow’s Nest dramatically increases the preserved area, bringing the total land removed from development on the Crow’s Nest peninsula to over 4,000 acres. “It’s really heartening to have an area as large as Crow’s Nest protected from development, especially in a fast-growing County like Stafford,” noted former Aquia District Supervisor Paul Milde.
As Supervisor, Milde led the fight to have Stafford adopt the purchase-of development-rights (PDR) program and the TDR program as essential tools to control development and preserve environmentally sensitive areas. A PDR program aims to compensate landowners, allowing the government to purchase the development rights to land at an agreed upon price to ensure the land will not be parceled for development. A TDR program allows a landowner to forego developing land in exchange for being allowed to increase the density of development at another location, ideally one with a road and other infrastructure suitable for development.
Both programs are entirely voluntary on the part of the landowner or developer, and neither is part of the eminent domain process. “PDRs and TDRs are essential tools we need to manage growth in a fast-growing county like Stafford,” said Milde. “Absent these two programs, Stafford would never have been able to preserve land and open spaces as aggressively as it has. And unlike down-zoning and eminent domain, these programs respect the rights of private property owners.”