Do Houses Pay their Own Way?

by James A. Bacon

There is a widespread sentiment among Virginia county officials that houses are money losers for local governments, especially when families have school-age children. Families do not pay enough in property taxes to cover the local share of the cost of K-12 education.

Neal Barber, president of the Community Futures consulting firm, endeavors to rebut that logic in a short essay appearing in a new publication, “The Effects of Housing on the Local Economy,” put out by Virginia Housing, a public-private housing partnership.

According to a widely held belief, a school child costs local government an average of $5,000 yearly in local government funds. Very few houses pay that much in personal property tax, says Barber. (The apparent discrepancy is even worse, I would add, if a family has two or more children.)

But that kind of analysis, says Barber, ignores the fact that the typical household pays personal property taxes on two or more automobiles, that roughly one in seven households pays personal taxes on a boat, and that households patronize local businesses that generate sales taxes and other local tax revenues.

Furthermore, he argues, a study of five regions around Virginia demonstrated that local governments, with few exceptions, collect more than enough from their property taxes “to cover the cost of educating the children that will reside in those homes. … Contrary to the common misperception, housing is not a drag on the local tax base but a contributor to the local tax coffers.”

I sympathize with Barber’s sense that there is something very wrong when incentives exist to discriminate against new housing construction, especially housing for lower-income citizens.

But I disagree with his analysis. Of course property taxes cover the cost of schools and other local government services! It can’t be otherwise. As the primary source of tax revenue over which they have control, city councils and county supervisors have no choice but to adjust property tax rates to cover the costs of government, whatever those costs might be.

Barber’s line of argument misses the point: It’s an unfortunate reality that if counties could zone out families with school-age children, especially those who live in apartments and tiny houses that pay very little taxes, they could (1) reduce the school-age population, (2) reduce K-12 spending, and (3) reduce the property tax rate for everyone else. In middle-class jurisdictions, that’s a winning re-election formula. Even when you take ancillary revenue sources like sales taxes and personal property taxes into account, there will always be an incentive for local governments to discourage lower-cost housing.

The proper line of argument is that local governments have no business restricting the supply of housing for certain classes of citizens.

The underlying problem is that the power of local governments to restrict the supply of housing has trumped the right of land owners to build what they want on their property. Free markets between willing buyers and willing sellers should determine where houses are built, not the government. If home builders perceive a demand for lower-priced housing in a particular city or county, they should allowed to build it (as long as they pay their location-variable costs, a very different discussion that should not distract us here).

Zoning policies that discriminate against lower-income households impose hidden costs on others. Unable to find affordable housing in County X, families must live in City Y or County Z, which doesn’t have such policies. That often means workers must drive further to reach their jobs, at a cost of time and money to them. In order to attract labor to work in positions ranging from teachers and firemen to store clerks and hamburger flippers, employers must pay higher wages or suffer labor shortages. Barber should be focusing on on those externalized costs.

I can understand that, politically speaking, my libertarian approach won’t fly. The primary source of net worth for most American families is the equity in their house (this is so, even after the housing crash). They viscerally oppose anything that might threaten the value of their house, and that means objecting to any proposal that would allow people with lower incomes to live anywhere near them. The average American associates poor people with higher levels of crime, lower quality schools, higher levels of public support — all of which means higher taxes and lower property values for middle class residents.

Appeals to the pragmatism of local government officials — “housing really does pay its own way, you just haven’t figured it out yet” — are not likely to be persuasive. We have to argue on first principles. County exclusionary policies (a) violate a land owner’s right to do what he pleases with his own property, and (b) they discriminate against lower-income households. Both are just wrong.

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  1. Jim, Jim, Jim.
    I have made this argument for decades here, with little luck.

    Part of the issue is other taxes paid. Part of the issue is over what period of time. But the biggest part of the issue is bad (deliberately false, in my opinion) framing of the argument. For example, In Fauquier it is widely quoted that a new home does not pay its way in county services unless the home is valued at at least $710,000. Or as Barber puts it:

    According to a widely held belief, a school child costs local government an average of $5,000 yearly in local government funds. Very few houses pay that much in personal property tax, ….

    Now, in Fauquier, the averade home is only valued around $230,000, about one third of the amount fauquier officials claim is necessary to pay its own way. As Jim points out the bills ARE getting paid, so the money must come from somewhere.

    Lo, and behold, if we look at the Fauquier sources of revenue, only about one third of it comes from real estate tax. The rest comes form other taxes and fees paid by residents and business owners (most of whom live in, gasp, HOUSES).

    In other words the arument that homes valued at less than $710,000 is BOGUS, BOGUS, BOGUS. Properly stated the argument would be “If we eliminated all other sources of revenu, and the only source of revenue was residential real esatate taxes, and if the residential tax rate remained the same after eliminating all other taxes and fees, then in that extreme hypothetical case no home valued at less than $710,000, would pay its own full costs.”

    I have cited academic studies supporting Barbers position and showing the errors in the (frequently quoted) cost of community services studies done by American Farmland Trust. One of the errors is picing a point in time instead of considering the lifetime contribution of the house. My own house, for example has not had a child in it for over 60 years. NONE of my five nearest neighbors homes have had a child in them for over 20 years, yet someone would object to those homes being built today, on the basis that they would not pay their own way.

    Disagree with Barbers analysis if you like, but it is far more accurate that the spurious claim that any home costing less that $710,000 does not pay its own way.

    1. My main point of disagreement with Barber’s analysis is that he overlooks the strong incentives for discriminating against lower-income and working class-income housing. The incentives do exist. Lower-income residents don’t “pay their way.” That’s why nobody wants them.

      But that doesn’t make it right to discriminate against them.

  2. We have to argue on first principles. County exclusionary policies (a) violate a land owner’s right to do what he pleases with his own property, and (b) they discriminate against lower-income households. Both are just wrong.

    And so is the claim that houses do not pay their own way. Why exclude a perfectly good and valid argument from the list?

  3. The proper line of argument is that local governments have no business restricting the supply of housing for certain classes of citizens.


    I would add that they also have no business Oversupplying the necessary amount of agricultural land to certain classes of citizens, either.

  4. DJRippert Avatar

    It’s always interesting to see Jim Bacon go all “touchy – feely”. One wonders just how accommodating Jim Bacon would be if the Tappa Kegga Bud fraternity at the University of Richmond rented the house next door to him and moved 30 of the brothers in for a non-stop toga party.

    However, this statement was the real problem with Jim’s analysis:

    ” But I disagree with his analysis. Of course property taxes cover the cost of schools and other local government services! It can’t be otherwise. “.

    Jim is thing at the average instead of on the margin. Ken Elzinga would be very unhappy with that. Of course, the real estate taxes pay for everything that the real estate taxes fund. The question is whether new housing is accretive or dilutive to the tax base. Since I am an Irish – Catholic, let me put this in Irish – Catholic terms. Let’s say that the Irish – Catholic League of America proposes to build 1,000 new, affordable homes on 1/8th acre lots in Henrico County. They will cost, on average, $150,000 and will have three bedrooms each. I believe that Henrico County taxes real estate at $0.87 per $100 of assessed value. That will generate $1.3M of real estate taxes. However, those Irish – Americans average 3 kids per family, of which 2 are school age. That’s 2,000 kids in the public schools. At $5,000 per kid per year that’s $10M per year in public school costs. Of course, this figure doesn’t include the costs of extra policemen to patrol the local pubs, new roads, etc.

    Just the additional school costs of this 1,000 home complex leave the county $8.7M in the hole. Adding everything else in, the total tab could be $10M – $15M per year of additional deficit caused by these 1,000 homes.

    There are just over 100,000 households in Henrico County. So, the unfunded $15M of annual costs would cost each household another $150 per year.

    Calculated differently, let’s say the average real estate for Henrico’s 100,000 households is $200,000. A 1 cent per $100 increase in the property taax generates $2M. So, covering the $15M deficit from the Irish-Americans will require Henrico to raise the property tax by 7.5 cents to 94.5 cents per $100 of assessed value.

    My guess is that Jim Bacon would be the first in line at the Henrico Tea Party protest to picket against such an increase in the real estate tax rate.

    1. “How accommodating [would] Jim Bacon … be if the Tappa Kegga Bud fraternity at the University of Richmond rented the house next door to him and moved 30 of the brothers in for a non-stop toga party.”

      I’d ask the police to enforce the noise and nuisance ordinances and enforce civil behavior. I wouldn’t try to tell them they couldn’t rent the house next door.

    2. As for your analysis, I don’t see where we disagree. County officials can do the same math. There’s always an incentive to discriminate against people whose income and/or wealth is less than the county average.

      Does that make it right to discriminate against lower-income housing?

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        “Does that make it right to discriminate against lower-income housing?”.

        When the alternative is committing economic suicide, of course it does.

        A jurisdiction can only be solvent to the extent that the surplus from accretive taxpayers equals or exceeds the deficit from dilutive taxpayers.

        Allowing a situation where there are too many dilutive taxpayers relative to accretive taxpayers guarantees the insolvency of the jurisdiction.

        Insolvent jurisdictions do not provide vital public services for their residents – no matter how affordable the housing might be.

        Ask Dave Bing in Detroit about this situation.

        Jurisdictions must maintain balance.

        1. Sometimes I think you take a querrelous tone just to give me a hard time. I don’t see how we disagree. It’s important for municipalities to compete on the basis of their taxes, amenities and all-around competence. It’s one of the few things that keeps them honest. It’s a good thing for municipalities to compete for businesses and high net-worth individuals who pay lots of taxes.

          But do you really believe it’s OK for municipalities to compete through exclusionary zoning that (a) tramples on private property rights and (b) discriminates against lower-income households? Really truly?

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    Hydra, of course, is quite right. Real estate taxes are only a small part of the equation. The people who live in houses pay real estate taxes, income taxes (well, about 1/2 the time for federal), FICA, sales taxes, personal property taxes, etc.

    Any sensible analysis requires a review of all the costs at the county, state and federal level as well as all of the taxes paid at the county, state and federal level.

    Bacon also conveniently forgets that people who are tax accretive can simply move out of any locality they don’t like if they perceive that local zoning trends will reduce the value of their real estate. The only answer to this would be complete uniformity in locality governance (thus making it irrelevant as to where someone lives) or somehow forcing a certain percentage of tax accretive families to live in each locality.

    Localities and states need to compete for tax accretive residents. The first step is to determine who is tax accretive and who is tax dilutive. I personally the results of this analysis could be very surprising. It’s not going to be a simple question of income. The second step is to figure out how to attract tax accretive residents. They are absolutely necessary if you are going to have tax dilutive residents (unless you are willing to run a deficit).

    Now, whether you try to discourage tax dilutive residents is a good question.

    1. I don’t have a problem with competing for tax-accretive residents. In fact, I frequently advocate state/local tax policies that do exactly that. I *do* have a problem with government interfering with voluntary transactions between willing sellers and buyers in order to discriminate against lower-income residents.

  6. Not sure I caught the “study”. Is there a reference link?

    ” ” But I disagree with his analysis. Of course property taxes cover the cost of schools and other local government services! It can’t be otherwise. “.

    Bacon is swinging in the wind on this.

    yes.. by definition – AFTER you have RAISED TAXES on both businesses AND residential, you eventually get to parity.

    You can fairly add to real estate taxes, personal property taxes and sales taxes so let’s see the study that shows this.

    Remember also – no matter how many taxes you identify – those without kids are ALSO paying them and as such, a fair accounting would ask what the taxes from those without kids is paying for if not for others kids?

    Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT anti-kid, anti-family or even anti-education but until we are willing to confront the realities – how can we do whatever might come next?

    we need to face the truth that k-12 education is very, very expensive and, in my view, very, very necessary although I have issues with cost effectiveness.

  7. the “study” apparently is a glossy brochure that is long on narrative and short on data.

    DJ makes interesting points about tax “accretive”

    Schools are around 1/2 the costs of “operating” many localities.

    It appears that we’re basically making the argument that parents will pay for the schools and everyone else will pay for the rest of the locality’s operation – as if the parents don’t also utilize law enforcement, fire/rescue, libraries, etc.

    the unvarnished truth is – that housing that is not age-restricted is what causes zoning restrictions and other policies that seek to mitigate the costs of the most expansive kinds of development which are basically single family detached housing because it almost always means it is occupied by people who require more in services than the taxes they pay for services – not just schools but all the other services that everyone needs.

    We don’t usually restrict zoning for – as DJ says “tax accretive” development.

    Retail Commercial businesses are just another way of collecting taxes to pay for rooftops.

    Some actually claim that you have to build more rooftops to “attract” commercial retail development that will pay taxes to which I say DUH!

    It’s almost as if grocery stores, drug stores, etc have to be convinced to come where there are “rooftops”.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      “We don’t usually restrict zoning for – as DJ says “tax accretive” development.”.

      Actually, I think this happens all the time. A developer in Prince William County recently wanted a variance to build 300 or so modest single family homes in an area known as “the rural crescent”. The “rural crescent” is a part of PW County where every plot of land has to have 10 acres or more. The developer had support from the BoS but got shut down (I believe) from a grass roots revolt. The reasons for the revolt were interesting:

      The people in the “rural crescent” thought the development would bring down the value of their homes.

      Many PW residents outside the “rural crescent” felt that the homes would be tax dilutive and would force the county to raise taxes in a fashion somewhat akin to the Irish-American League story I told in a previous comment.

      The Tea Party opposed any additional density in PW since denser places seem to always become more liberal places. Arlington County was routinely referenced. (I am not making this up)

      A few environmentalists and smart growthers opposed the development because it was seen as “sprawl”.

      As far as I can tell, nobody spoke for the people who commute 45 miles to work that would only commute 25 miles if the development had been built.

      So, there was a substantial sentiment that the development would be tax dilutive. The specific cost of a home that is tax accretive was estimated to be $500,000 by these people. The homes in question were going to cost $300,000.

  8. DJRippert Avatar

    Here’s a typical comment from 2008 on BVBL.Net:

    Mark Granville-Smith, developer and president of the Prince William County chapter of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association, is a much greater threat to our quality of life and property tax bills than is John Steinbach of Mexicans Without Borders. Granville-Smith views the Rural Crescent as an inventory of land awaiting use by him and his developer associates. He argues that residential development is a plus for the County’s finances by ignoring its costs and citing only the revenue side. He fights for greater density and a free hand for all developers. Worst, he is a member of the committee charged with revising PWC’s Comprehensive Plan.
    Steinbach is a “useful idiot” for people like Granville-Smith. Steinbach comes across to me as someone who is misguided in his views, but sincere and highly moral in his philosophy. Developers such as Granville-Smith can hide in the shadows and let others, such as John Steinbach, argue their cause for welcoming cheap, illegal labor from a moral, rather than a profit, perspective.
    Tom Kopko played a significant role in helping defeat the Brentswood development in 2006. I would be surprised if he’s throwing in with the developers in the Comprehensive Plan revision.
    Prince William County needs a blend of development that includes residential and non-retail commercial. When we get an appropriate mix, the revenue-positive commercial subsidizes the revenue-negative residential. Our community can grow, improve public services (including expanding parks and open space), and hold the line on property taxes for citizens. PWC has a long way to go to get enough non-retail commercial development to make up for the excess of residential development we got in the past.
    Moreover, the jobs that development creates should go to those legally eligible to work in the United States at livable wages with ALL taxes due by employer and employee alike being paid.
    Developers prefer residential development because it’s usually more profitable (especially in PWC). They can throw up the units, get out of town and leave us holding the bag of higher taxes, and congested schools and roads. Our choice becomes paying higher taxes to sustain our levels of public services or allowing those levels of service to deteriorate. That imbalance of residential development crowding out commercial development was the cause of our tax and quality of life problems in the years leading up to the housing market collapse, as well as a major cause of the collapse itself.
    If we allow the Board of County Supervisors to cater to the demands of the development industry again when the economy and markets improve, we’ll be right back where we were in terms of rising taxes, deteriorating quality of life, and the problems associated with illegal aliens as that industry re-erects its “welcome” sign to cheap labor.

  9. Fairfax County supervisors regularly argue residential development incurs more in costs than it generates in tax revenues for the County. They argue commercial development is necessary, therefore. One of the reasons given for BoS support of residential development at Tysons is the belief more residents there will not have children or, at least, as many children. The hope is to reduce the amount of drag on county finances caused by residential development.
    I am not arguing for or against this position, just reporting what elected officials state.
    I do agree that the correct measure is revenue to the county and costs for the county. Other taxes and costs are not relevant.

  10. I strongly suspect that all this high and mighty talk about restricted zoning would explode into flurry of outrage the very first time an existing cul-de-saced subdivision was rezoned for higher density residential.

    In our area and throughout the NoVa/Exurban area, trying to add a tenant apartment or similar to your land for a non-family resident is a total no-go.

    The house next door to me has a mother-in-law addition that was allowed for …a ..mother-in-law – who has passed on. It now sits idle and empty and UN-rentable.

    I’ll bet that even where DJ lives that if he wanted to build a new structure for one of his kids.. there would be hell to pay… from officialdom and neighbors alike.

  11. Darrell Avatar

    You mean someone is actually figuring this out?

    Down here in Tidewater, you couldn’t build a stick unless it was priced at over 450 k. Anything less was deemed too cheap to pay for services. What resulted from the government decree were Mcmansions as far as the eye could see. In order to move up, a buyer had to go really big. When someone mentioned that lower income people couldn’t pay such high rates, the developers built apartments with thousand dollar rents to cover the ‘service charge’. Other lower income people qualified for liar loans and got too much house.

    And then the bottom fell out, which is one reason I blame all politicians for the housing crisis. Social engineering played a big part in where we are now. You have shoebox apartments that charge over a grand a month when a 6 bedroom all brick with private swimming pool rental estate goes begging at two grand.

    Government policies screwed the pooch, and you know what? You Nova guys are gonna love this… All throughout this whole poverty red line, mega-house nonsense, the cities here could only pay half of the required education bill. To this day, while our councils are dreaming of light rail, upscale apartment towers, and tourist entertainment districts… YOU GUYS PAY THE OTHER HALF!!

    And to really insult you, guess where the expenses for our nifty transit comes from?

  12. Darrell is being snarky here, eh? egging on DJ….

    re: Fairfax County residential / services “strategy”.

    well all I can say is that almost zero single’s move to the exurbs that I’m familiar with, because they have everything they want in NoVa, including housing, without moving to the exurbs and commuting.

    Married with kids is another story…

    re: paying for education and the composite index and who pays.

    well.. Fairfax actually caught a break on the composite index the last time around… right?

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      I am sure Darrell is right. This is just another example of run away libtarery.

      Anytime there is a discussion of the General fund being reduced or used for transportation you can rely on weepy eyed libtards slipping in the blood from their own bleeding hearts as they proclaim, “The children! The children! They are trying to hurt our beloved children!”.

      In fact, if more of the General Fund were spent on transportation and less on educational transfers to Virginia’s welfare regions then the welfare regions would have to impose higher proffers on new development to pay for their own education. This, in turn, would force people to buy smaller houses which would be better for congestion and the environment.

      So, the next time some politician wants to use General Fund money for transportation I’ll encourage the libtards to proclaim, “The developers! The developers! They are trying to hurt our beloved developers!”.

  13. Bunk, bunk, bunk, and more bunk.

    People do not want new homes because they believe it reduces the value of theirs. That much is true.

    A home is most people greatest source of wealth. That much is true.

    The rest is bunk.

    Those $300k homes will be $400 k pretty quick. That is why homes are accretive to personal wealth.

    How can that NOT be accretive to public wealth?

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      “How can that NOT be accretive to public wealth?”.

      Because the public doesn’t own the homes – just the obligation to provide services to them.

      That extra $100,000 of home vale adds $1,000 per year at a 1% real estate tax. Or, about 1/10th the annual cost of educating one child in the public schools.

      I don’t know where the line is drawn between homes that attract surplus vs deficit taxpayers. $400,000 may do it in Fauquier.

  14. 20 years ago, the county took away my ability to build a home.

    What was the result?

    Whoever might have lived there, lived someplace else. Probably a less desireable place, and probably for more money.

    I lost out on the weatlth accretion that home would have provided me. By now, that home would be cash flow positive to me. So, for the rest of my life, my retirement income is reduced by $1500 a month, or more.

    Larry can blather until he is blue in the face: NOTHING is going to convince me that the county is somehow better off for that harebained decision to limit what I can do with my life, my property, my investment, and my energy.

    I am utterly convinced that the county LOST MONEY on that deal, and many others like it.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, I figure Loudoun county is worth around $35 billion MORE than Fauquier county, starting from roughly equal conditions 50 years ago.

    OK, the loudoun tax rate is ten cents higher, or something
    I could have paid that for a long time for the $750k this county cost me.

    And what did fauquier get out of this? By their own claims, not mine, they saved $2300 a year.

    “THE COUNTY” saved less than $50k while costing one member of the county $750 k, plus whatever they cost my erstwhile tenants, whose kids they had to educate anyway.

    Instead of having all the taxes from all the cash flow that house and its tenants would have generated, the county preferred that I produce ten tons of hay from that property over the same period of time.

    Folks: that is stark raving crazy.

    1. DJRippert Avatar


      Ever since I was a kid Fauquier County had a reputation – a very small number of very rich people in total control of an entire county.

      The very rich don’t need local economic development. In fact, they detest it.

      They moved to Fauquier to get away from the crowding in other parts of the state. They want to be with their horses and the white wine and quiche set.

      In a very sad note, some of the wealthiest people in Fauquier are the most adamant about “stopping sprawl”. How did they make their fortunes? Building “sprawl communities” in places like Loudoun. They profited immensely by making other communities unlivable then moved to Fauquier, used the ill-gotten gains to buy vast acreages and put those acreages into perpetual conservation easements – writing the decreased value off their taxes.

      When some long time Fauquier resident with a farm wants to develop his or her farm the rich elite jimmy the political process to have the land rezoned as un-develop-able. The owner should be told, “You should have raped Fairfax and Loudoun Counties like we did.”.

      The real question is why the majority of Fauquier residents can’t take control from the small number of uber rich folks who seem to run the county. I guess it’s the golden rule – he who has the gold makes the rules.

  15. Hydra says ” homes are accretive to personal wealth.

    How can that NOT be accretive to public wealth?”

    it’s a pretty strong argument but using some of Hydra’s own previous thoughts that if you tax something you get less of it – doesn’t seem to work with houses.

    then… look at places like Detroit where houses are not only no accretive in wealth to individuals but costly burdens on other taxpayers.

    A house is not always a guaranteed investment. You take a drive through rural Va and count the numbers of dead and dying homes that no one wants.

    We have older neighborhoods in Spotsy where home values decrease as the neighborhood changes character and owners see their investments actually go down in value.

    there are two parts to the equation also.

    1. what assets are worth –

    2. the costs of providing services to them

    Houses that increase in value do not often result in lowering of taxes in most places.

    why? You’d think if the number of houses was the same and the values increased that the costs of the services would not go up just because the value of the homes increased. One might think that when houses increased in value that the taxes would “equalize” – same revenue… no increase in taxes.

    Instead, we know that whenever reassessments take place that if your house increases in value – you are not rewarded but penalized.

    very curious.

  16. Yeah well, we also know that when building lags, the counties are pretty soon singing the blues because of the lack of new revenues.

  17. You are rewarded with higher equity.

  18. Detroit is noteworthy because it is an extreme situation. Certainly some neighborhoods age and others become historic or go upscale. All the more reason to believe the point in time cost estimate is flawed.

  19. Dead and dying homes vet that way because they have reached the end of their useful lifetime. In rural Areas you have the problem that the land is worth far more than the house, but they cannot be separated. You have a property zoned agriculture cultural, but with no economic AG value, and too expensive for someone that wants just the home.

  20. Rippert has described the situation accurately. I don’t have a problem with it actually, except I believe when someone gets something they want, they should be willing to pay for it. Here, they are basically stealing what they want by selling the lie that houses cost more than they are worth.

  21. re: singing the blues

    well yes.. because of all these things said to be ponzi schemes – residential development is a loser in terms of services require vs taxes paid and so the counties are always in the hole and seeking new revenues but new rooftops as a solution is like more crack cocaine is a solution to drug addiction.

    when counties need new capital facilities like schools and they have no money to build them and there choice is to increase taxes or build new homes…. they take the path of least resistance but each new home is basically an unfunded liability.

    look at the tax rate in Loudoun. vs the tax rate in other exurban counties.

    At some point, people see Loudoun as an expensive place to live and can get more home for their money and lower tax rates by going to other counties.

    except for Facquier who basically have said they won’t take more development than can pay for itself or that can be reasonably subsidized by those already there.

    I do not think they have anything against individual land owners per se but the7 know if they accommodate one guy, a bunch of others will show up demanding equal treatment.

    This is exactly what happened to Loudoun and Prince William.

    it’s damn near impossible to draw a growth boundary and stick to it.

    so the growth boundary get’s drawn on a entire county basis….

    Spotsylvania has tried to have a de-facto growth boundary but when schools are sited outside the existing water/sewer area – the water/sewer service area is extended and despite effort to hold the line – longer term – there is no real way to deny water/sewer connections when the lines are in the ground in front of vacant properties and sooner or later rezones will be granted.

    The counties themselves pre-ordain this outcome when the do assessments and assign much higher values to land that is close enough to existing water/sewer such that it COULD be conceivably served if approved.

    so when the county taxes land as if it could be developed with water/sewer… it WILL be developed on that basis.

    so it starts with schools that pierce the existing water/sewer boundaries and then inevitably land that abuts the same water/sewer lines will be developed into prime subdivisions.

    I’m not actually opposed to this as long as the country has a fiscal plan for providing services and transportation infrastructure …

    what I oppose is the country giving the rezones with no real capital facilities plan to serve them and ultimately it all falls in taxpayers laps.

    Even that is not awful as long as the RATE of growth can be reasonably accommodated with relatively modest tax increases.

    Loudoun is an example of what happen when the growth rate exceeds the ability to keep with with services and infrastructure without significant tax increases.

    When this happens – the price of housing skyrockets beyond the ability of people who work in the county, deputies and teachers and the like who simply cannot afford a place to live in the county that they work in.

  22. “violate a land owner’s right to do what he pleases with his own property” This is pure BS. Property rights do not extend to interfering with others’ property rights. All of us have the right to use our land as permitted by state law, local ordinances and zoning. Landowners also have a constitutional right to seek changes in the above. But neighbors also have a similar right to resist changes.
    I also am troubled by the idea that rights to dirt exceed rights to personal property, including money. Changes in land use can affect neighbors’ tax bills. Why isn’t one person’s right to keep his/her money equal to another person’s right to change the use of his/her real estate?

  23. TMT is correct, neighbors do have a similar right to resist change.
    One persons right to keep his money is equal to another persons to their property. Use is determined by law.

    But they are not treated equally. When was a neighborhood ever downzoned by removing the occupancy permits. Let that happen to TMT, let his neighbors interfere with his property rights and then hear him scream. Of course, this has never happened, and that is exactly my point: peoples rights are NOT equal because they are treated so asymmetrically.

    Consider my example above. The county claimed excess costs of around $2500 per year. That is in the aggreagate, divided by 65,000 people. Over 20 years, that is $50,000. But over 20 years the cost to me might easily exceed $700,000. So, where is the equal protection of my money rights with others?
    Under thee rules it does not exist.

    If I had been offered the option, I would have paid the $50k. But, the money was never about the money, as Rippert pointed out. It is about power, it is about controlling property that you do not have to own, and without covering the costs to others.

    If there were the kinds of equal rights TMT describes, I would be satisfied. Hell, if the county paid me 5% interest on the money THEY CLAIM I AM SAVING THEM, money effective sly borrowed from the money I might have had, I could live with that.

    Why would such a small compensation be adequate? Because a) my rights would be recognized, my neighbors and fellow citizens would know that they do not get assymetric rights for free, and because I would not have to make the investment and take the risk.

    I agree with TMT, those rights ought to be equal but they are not. If they were, things would be much different.

    But, after all, it is not about the rights, or the money.

    It is about power, and those other things are just excuses to steal.

  24. If you think I am kidding about occupancy permits, considered my house in Alexandria. It had a mother in law suite, which was outlawed. The existing owner.vranfatherd, but when the property was sold, that ocupancy permit
    expired. All of that investment was lost, because others wanted it so, at no expense to themselves.

    Equal rights in money? I don’t think so.

  25. Or consider my brother, who bought three lots and. Hilt his home on one, the others being reserved for his children.

    A change in setback rules invalidated those lots. This was not done because of any runoff problem, It that excuse was CY icllay used to reduce future development.

    It worked, and his children moved away when they grew up and could not afford to buy in that area.

    Ultimately, my brother bought a ten foot strip from his neighbor and ultimately was able to build. It only cost him around $250k to meet the new requirement.

    The end result in his case was the same amount of housing and the same amount of land for runoff. Only the lines on a map were different.

    But many others were not so lucky, or had even more intrasigent neighbors.

    Equal rights in money? I don’t think so.

  26. Really, my brother had a life plan, and others had a new plan for setback rules.

    My brothers life plan just got scrapped, and the delays and expense literally cost him his fortune.

    Fauquier is not alone in this reprehensible behavior.

  27. Not to mention how it changed his children’s lives.

  28. Darrell Avatar

    I’m not sure, but most kids who have a choice don’t want to live anywhere near where their parents can see what they are up to. Not only does such a life plan go against the natural order of things, it is an exercise of a power that the parent doesn’t possess.

  29. True, but this is a very desoreable resort area. Housing is at such a premium most kids realize they can never live there unless there is some sort of inheritance or family enclave. At least in this area it seems to work, since I know some families that have persisted there
    This way since the 1700s.

    Whether or not the kids choose to live there is no reason to deny him the chance to make the offer.

    If there had been a genuine issue with setbacks or drainage, then it is something that affects everyone, and it is up to the community to find an equitable solution that all pay for. But this is an area of large lots and sandy soils. There are no streams to run off into. The only reason the setbacks were an issue to my brother was that his land was irregular, and the new setbacks were large, so they took up most of his formerly allowable building space.

  30. This ought to make Hydra feel better. There’s new blood on our BOS and they are not only fiscally conservative but landowner-friendly.

    They’re changing the game on Eminent Domain.

    They seriously considering taking everything out of the Comp Plan that is not mandated by the State and even in that case – only what the state requires.

    they are wading in to all manner of regulations and restrictions and rolling back ones they think are anti-landowner and anti-business.

    they’ve still got to confront the fiscal issues associated with new development and it’s need for infrastructure and services.

    I’ve often wondered in the case of Fairfax why this is a Fairfax county and a Fairfax City. Anyone know what it’s not just one entity?

  31. Down-zoning just doesn’t happen in Fairfax County. In 1982, the County successfully down-zoned “more than 41,000 acres in the Occoquan Watershed” and imposed ” additional stormwater runoff protections on 64,500 acres in order to protect one of the county’s most important natural resources – [] drinking water.”
    I don’t think any other attempt was successful and I cannot imagine this being proposed today. In fact, Jim Zook, former head of P&Z for the County, told Tysons landowners that none of them would wind up with less density than they had today and challenged them to report this. Now, he didn’t say that they would all get more than they had today. Only Bill Lecos and Clark Tyler may have made that promise, but without authority.
    I believe some landowners and not just big ones believe when they don’t get more or are required to follow existing rules then believe they have lost rights. But that is simply untrue. I once saw a land use case in McLean where the landowner tried to argue his proposed lots fronted on the Beltway in order to maximize yield. Needless to say, the County rejected that argument because it was false. The owner thinks he got screwed, but he had not legal right to distort the zoning.

  32. there are some cases like those that Hydra alludes to but there are many more cases like TMT alludes to.

    Many developers and property owners simply do not believe that local govt should have zoning powers to start with. Whatever infrastructure is needed is the responsibility of

    they oppose the idea that they cannot do with their land what they wish to do with it and that govt can regulate how their land is used.

    then you have the agenda 21 folks ……

  33. The fact that there are few of them only makes more unfair. It ought to be easy and satisfying to all foe the winners to find some way to compensate the losers.

    Many many lots were downzonwd in fauquier with no remuneration paid although upzoning always requires remuneration going the other way.

    Once the county found it politically difficult to do more downzoning, they started the purchase of development rights program, thereby tacitly admitting that all the lots previously downzoned in fact had value and should have been paid for.

  34. I don’t doubt downzoning per se is rare in Fairfax, or that it takes other forms. If you bought a lot or a teardown figuring you would squeeze in a 6000 sq ft home, but you got subsequently slammed by the mcmansion rule, isn’t that a downzoning?

    I am still quite certain there are plenty of people in Fairfax who want to control what others do, to create new and additional regs, at no cost to themselves.

  35. Sounds like the pendulum at the spotsy board is about to swing too far the other way.

    That is what happens when one side wields power unfairly

  36. Teardowns in Fairfax. There are lots of them. Most are built by right, but still must comply with all applicable rules, including set-backs. A person who wants to build a large, new house on a teardown lot who cannot meet the set-back rules is most likely going be required to modify the plan – build something that does meet the set-back rules. I know a lot of people don’t like teardowns, but their complaints have been rejected so long as the applicant meets the zoning rules. On the other hand, many proposals that require special exceptions or variances don’t get approved.
    To my way of thinking, these results are not unfair to anyone. You can build what the rules say you an build, but you cannot build what the rules prohibit you from building.

  37. “Many developers and property owners simply do not believe that local govt should have zoning powers to start with.” Amen!!!
    I can do what I want, when I want and, by the way, you need to pay higher taxes because my development will overwhelm [streets, parks, schools, etc.] I also cannot make the profits I want under existing zoning. It’s anti-business and takes my property rights.

  38. In Va, VDOT has become the biggest enabler of this mindset because everyone thinks the roads are “free” including the property rights folks (even though they are opposed to ED).

    property rights folks think they are “entitled” to a curb-cut on a public road.

    My question is – what is the real basis for this?

    If the road was a toll road, you can bet the owner would require major dollars for a curb cut and he’s base the price on how many additional cars would be using up capacity on the toll road.

    Why don’t we charge “availability fees” for roads like we do water/sewer?

    in both cases, new hookups mean consumption of existing capacity that ultimately will have to be replaced.

    If we did water/sewer like we do roads, the monthly rates for water/sewer would have to double to cover not only operational costs but capital expansion costs.

    guess what. when you price roads for only their operational costs, you run out of capital to expand them.

    VDOT should sell curb cuts… to the highest bidder who can then re-sell them to whoever wants to pay ….

  39. Teardowns in Fairfax. There are lots of them. Most are built by right, but still must comply with all applicable rules, including set-backs. A person who wants to build a large, new house on a teardown lot who cannot meet the set-back rules is most likely going be required to modify the plan – build something that does meet the set-back rules.


    I have no problem when the rules are known up front.

    The problem as I stated it, would be for those people who bought properties before the new rules for max house size per lot were instituted. Some people bought lots and had massive homes installed that met the existing setback requirements, but still dwarfed everything around them. If you had bought a lot with that in mind, and suddenly the rules changed, you were out of luck.

    Such people, with no consideration of their neighbors probably got the rule change they deserved: rules happen when people screw up.

    But it is still an example of people controlling other people’s property, just becasue they do not like the aesthetics. It has nothing to do with rights in property or dirt or property in the form of money.

    Does the county have the right to change such rules, sure. But some way to ensure people are not hurt by the rule change itself needs to be in place. This can be as simple as For all properties purchased after….

  40. To my way of thinking, these results are not unfair to anyone. You can build what the rules say you an build, but you cannot build what the rules prohibit you from building.


    I believe that line of thinking is patently false: the reason being that existing homes are grandfathered. As in my brother’s case, everyone else built to one set of setback standards, and then the standards changed.

    Sure, it is fair in that everyone has to build to the rules, (in place at the time) but often, the new rules are designed from the ground up to create a benefit to the existing owners, by creating a benefit they don’t have to pay for with a rule they don’t have to comply with. Another variation is to create a benefit someplace else with a rule that applies to one area. Fauquier ran into a firestorm of complaints this way, when they tried to double the size of the flood plains, and when they tried to create special and highly restrictive rules to protect the reservoirs.

    While the supposed goal may have been laudatory, people recognized that there was no need of the additionl protections, and that it was merely a way to put even more land in permanent open space.

    So, The RESULTS can be highly unfair, even when the rule is not, or not obviously so.

    I think we can do better, but, just as TMT stated above, we need a better recognition of, and defense for, property rights. we will also need a little les cynical view than the one that says, “Well, everyone is equal because everyone has to play by the rules.” with no recognition of how damaging changing the rules over time can be.

    How would you like to be a guy who had ten building lots erased by zoning changes, and then ten years later watch your neighbor get paid for ten lots under the new PDR program? What the heck, that’s fair, they both had to play by the rules, right?

  41. in both cases, new hookups mean consumption of existing capacity that ultimately will have to be replaced.


    This is exceptionally faulty logic, yet we see itall the time.

    Old hookups consume capacity too. It is NOT just the new hookups that consume existing capacity. This is a faulty logic designed to demonize the new guy, and it has nothing to do with the problem at hand: how doy you supply capacity that everyone benefits from and deploy the costs fairly?

    I have made this argument before, that you could just as well say that those people who owned undeveloped property, sometimes for decades, or even centuries, contributed to the infrastrucure used all that time by others. to then turn around and blame them for ALL the new requirements when they finally do develop, is a form of double jeopardy.

    Especially when they get pushed into developing, for fear some new rule will appear that takes that right away.

    There is a germ of truth to the new capacity argument, but it needs to be considered a lot more careully, with a lot better understanding of who has what property rights.

  42. VDOT should sell curb cuts… to the highest bidder who can then re-sell them to whoever wants to pay ….

    [What makes you think they don’t already?]

    Why stop at VDOT? Expand that idea to the Dept aof economic development and he zoning board.

    This is exactly what I said above. The county said no, you cannot do this (even though we told you in writing three times in the past that you could do this) because we calculate it will cost us $2300 a year. If I thought that number was any whee near right, I would say fine, I will pay it.

    Better yet, I’ll put $50k in escrow, and in 20 years we can back calculate and see how much this place actually cost you in additional services, then I will pay you, plus interest.

    Sure, if money is really the problem, then let’s make money the answer. I virtually guarantee that the NIMBY’s will not be satisfied with that: it is not money they are after, it is control.

  43. ” I have no problem when the rules are known up front”

    they grandfather existing owners. How would you accommodate changes?

    are you not essentially advocating NO changes because you are opposed to changes that affect future things?

    re: ” capacity”

    water/sewer has two parts:

    1. – building new infrastructure when existing capacity is depleted
    2. – operational costs

    everyone pays operational costs

    how do you set aside money to buy new infrastructure when your existing capacity is depleted from new hookups?

  44. re: Nimby’s and money.

    well, if we have a viable financial plan for schools and roads like we already have for water/sewer it would seriously undermine the Nimby’s.

    water/sewer plants are sized for specific capacities that convert directly to the number of hookups they can serve. The monthly operational fees are not for the existing pipes and plant but for the operation and maintenance of the existing pipes and treatment plant.

    If you need MORE pipes and more plant capacity – how is that paid for?

    Would you increase the prices people pay for operational costs so that the increased amount would buy new, additional capacity that you would then give out free to new people?

    Or should new people pay for the infrastructure needed to serve their homes?

    Most water/sewer systems charge for hookups – as well as a monthly operational fee.

    In order to hook-up, you buy your share of the cost of the new pipes and plant capacity to serve you.

    few people and developers see this as “unfair”.

  45. Hydra Avatar

    are you not essentially advocating NO changes because you are opposed to changes that affect future things?


    Larry, we have been over this before a dozen times and you still act like this idea is a big surprise, even though Oregon enacted it into law.

    No, I am not saying that no changes can be made. I am simply saying that government should not trample on porperty rights through the regulatory system. So far, the rules and legal standing on “regulatory taking” are pretty sparse, the supreme court has held (so far) that a regulatory taking clearly takes place when substantially all the value of a property is lost through regulatory action, and in such cases compensation must be paid.

    There have been relatively few such cases bcause the regualators have been careful to not take “all” the property. This is cynical and wrong, because if it is illegal to take all the value out of the property it is still wrong to take half the value out with the same process.

    This is a simple matter of the government dong its job and protecting people and property, which they can easily do and still pass new and more restrictive regulations, if they want. It will just cost a little more to compensate people for their losses.

  46. Hydra Avatar

    In order to hook-up, you buy your share of the cost of the new pipes and plant capacity to serve you.

    few people and developers see this as “unfair”.


    What happens when you are the last guy hooks up? Does the next guy have to pay for an entire new sewage treatment plant because the last one is full?

    Did the last guy to hook up cause the sewage treatment plant to be filled? Does the next guy get turned away, because there is no more capacity? The new sewage treatment plant is going to have to be built to much higher standards and be many times as expensive, which benefits everyone.

    Would you say that only the new houses that hook up to the new plant have to pay for it, entirely?

  47. Hydra Avatar

    If you need MORE pipes and more plant capacity – how is that paid for?

    Sewage treatment is a public health and safety issue that benefits everyone.
    Everyone should pay for the health benefits gained.

    I know it is NOT done this way, but the amounts needed for the capital imporvement fund should be monetized and included with the monthly maintenance bill. Capital expansion of the system is an incremental cost just the same as the maintenance costs are, only the time scale is different.

    I understand how the system got the way it is, but it is unfortunate that it was allowed to happen that way because it reinforces mistaken property ideas such as you espouse: the idea that you paid for “your” infrastructure a nd the “new guys” should then pay for any degradation or new infrastructure is just wrong.

    At the end of the day, if thee is not enough infrastructure to go around, then no one has enough. If the infrastructure is full, the old guys are filling it up just as much as the new guys.

    Any other argument is just a load of crap.

  48. larryg Avatar

    re: regulatory takings

    so when a new rule is passed and existing landowners are grandfathered but the new rule affects future landowners…??? what’s your view? How do new rules get done?

    ” What happens when you are the last guy hooks up? Does the next guy have to pay for an entire new sewage treatment plant because the last one is full?”

    you pay for your pro-rata share of the new infrastructure. It’s called a hookup-fee.

    the water/sewer folks float a the capacity and sell hookups to pay back the bonds.

    re: ” Sewage treatment is a public health and safety issue that benefits everyone.
    Everyone should pay for the health benefits gained.”

    and the folks who don’t have sewer but had to pay for their own septic fields should also pay? who pays for their septic fields?

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