5 years after its Rural Preservation Study was completed, Prince William County moves forward

Virginia

"This is a very personal issue for people who live in the rural area."

WOODBRIDGE, Va. (WDVM) — In 1998, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors adopted its “Rural Area,” which designated 117,000 acres of the county for agricultural and single-family residential uses.

There has always been a division between different perspectives,” said Prince William County’s Planning Director Rebecca Horner. “Some people felt that designation was temporary; other people believe that it wasn’t temporary.”

52 percent of the land use in the county is rural use.

In 2014, the board commissioned and published its Rural Preservation Study, which recommended the development of a vision for rural preservation, which was discussed at a meeting Monday night. Horner says about 180 community members attended.

“This is a very personal issue for people who live in the rural area,” said Horner. “Maybe even people who don’t live in the rural area who have a very close tie to their quality of life with the preservation of the rural area.”

Horner says there is a high demand for growth in the county, which is driving up property taxes. Farmers are worried about the cost of business. “Land availability is concerning for them and they want to make sure that we preserve farm land opportunities,” said Horner.

The planning director says the general temperature from the public was anger and frustration. Very little has been done since the preservation study was completed.

In 2015 and 2016, the Virginia General Assembly virtually evaporated the county’s funding source.

“The Purchase of Development Rights Program [PDR] in the study was predicated largely on a funding source of proffers,” said Horner. In short, proffers are offers a jurisdiction may agree to in order to rezone. “When the proffer law changed…the General Assembly so greatly changed the way that jurisdictions could accept proffers that we were no longer able to monetize it that way.”

Horner says the county will bring forward its own PDR in the near future. “That will be an interesting conversation that we’re going to have to have as we move forward with this process with the public,” said Horner. “I just want to make sure we give tools that will be effective and that people will understand there could be county costs to these programs if they’re implemented because without an independent source it could be coming from general fund dollars.”

The former planning director was promoted in 2016, which slowed things down even further. Horner stepped in in 2017. “I did put the study on hold until we had resolution on where the General Assembly was going with impact fees, and that just happened a few months ago. Once we had clarity on where the General Assembly was moving, we put this back on the schedule.”

The study also recommends the purchase of development rights, transfer of development rights, and the potential for rural cluster. Those will come after the vision is completed. Horner says the Planning Office will have its first draft by its next public meeting on July 30.

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