Focused Growth

Del. Clifford L. Athey, R-Front Royal, thinks that Frederick County has a growth-management model worth emulating — so much so that he has crafted legislation to require counties across Virginia to create Frederick-style “Urban Development Areas” to accommodate growth. I explain Athey’s idea in my latest column, “Focused Growth,” the third of three articles that outline the transportation/land use reforms proposed by the House Republican Caucus during the recently departed transportation session of the General Assembly.

You can agree or disagree with the proposals. You can quibble with the details. One thing you cannot do — unless you are shilling for higher taxes with no accountability, or you’re a member of the Mainstream Media and content to live in la-la land — is dismiss them as a “cover” or a “distraction” from the tax debate. Governance reform is a fundamental part of the tax debate. Without reform, raising taxes will buy only more of the same failed transportation policies of the past.

To remind you of the ground we’ve covered:

Part I: Seventy-Five Years. Virginia’s system for building and maintaining roads has changed little in three quarters of a century. Some people think it needs more money. Others think it needs an overhaul.

Part II: The Devolution Solution. Any meaningful transportation reform would make fast-growth counties responsible for their secondary roads. The trick is coaxing them into going along.

Part III: Focused Growth. To tame scattered development and the ills it creates, Frederick County concentrates growth in an Urban Development Area. The idea works so well that House Republicans want to take it statewide.

Add it all up, and you have the most far-reaching package for overhauling Virginia’s state/local governance structure in decades. As I’ve said repeatedly, the fact that it has elicited no more than a yawn from political reporters and editorial pundits is an indictment of Virginia journalism.
Am I saying that the House Republicans have devised the perfect, long-term solution for transportation and land use reform? No, I’m not. I’m merely insisting that they have raised substantive issues and proffered some ideas worth serious consideration.

Re-thinking the way Virginia builds and maintains secondary roads is crucial. Finding a way to channel growth into districts more efficiently served by roads, transit, utilities and public services is crucial. Making it easier for developers to apply New Urbanism design standards, as Athey’s bill also would accomplish, is crucial.

Are there many, many other things that need to be done? Of course. At the top of the list is adopting a true user-pays system for financing roads and rail…. And planning for Balanced Communities…. And setting objective performance measures to evaluate investments in transportation projects…. And embracing new technologies…. And improving VDOT business processes…. Real transportation reform can’t be accomplished with a single spasm of legislation. It requires a sustained effort over many years.

If we feed the system with new revenues, none of those changes will happen — just as the legislature made no movement towards reform after raising taxes for transportation in 1986. Without reform, the usual cast of special pleaders will return in another 10 years, weeping that Tim Kaine’s $1 billion in extra taxes still isn’t enough. Virginians will be $1 billion-a-year poorer and still stuck in traffic jams.


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32 responses to “Focused Growth”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Frederick county is pretty obviously doing the right things. They have planned their urban development area to accommodate the expected growth adequately. This means that developers and customers have room for various choices and enough competition to keep prices down. Presumably some analysis was done to figure out what it should be.

    But the article points out that the rest is reserved for agriculture. Some might say that sentenced to agriculture is closer to the facts. But the article indicates that limited growth is allowed in these areas, so that is at least something other than a flat out NO.

    We have analyisis to show how much room is neededfor growth, where is the anaylysis that says how much agriculture is needed? What is the basis for the UDA other than to save the county money?

    The process of doing this is going to create two classes of people, those inside and those outside the UDA and it represents a tremendous transfer of wealth. To some extent, those outside the UDA are being taxed in terms of growth prevented to suppor additional growth and wealth inside the UDA. There is no mention in the article or Athey’s plan on how to rectify this, and it isn’t a small matter.

    The only mention of anything of the type is a vague reference to transfer of development rights. So, once again you have a situation that appears to be, first we downzone, then we talk about development rights.

    It is just astonishing to me that people don’t get it. Three quarters of the county is going to pay through the nose for whatever savings the county makes by concentrating its efforts on the other quarter. If you look at it from a population standpoint it is even worse: 20% of the population is going to pay through the nose for savings that primarily benefit the other 80%.

    Just yesterday I spoke to a new landowner in the area. He bought an old run down farm, and I had done some sawmill work for him. He is doing a fabulous job restoring the old dilapidated farm residences, of which there are four or five.

    I complimented him on his efforts and remarked that he was lucky enough of the old habitations remained that he could restore them. He agreed that the income from the extra places would help make the place affordable. From the work that has already been done, he obviously has plenty of resources.

    Then he talked about his neighbor across the way. She has a couple of lots for sale, well up on the ridge line. He was concerned that some McMansions would be built there and wind up staring down on him. He was concerned about his view and his property values. He said that he planned to keep the place conserved, but that if that happened, he was out of there, after exercising his building rights.

    It was a typical story: I got mine, now I’m worried about everybody else.

    I told him I knew his neighbor, and I thought she was attempting to do the right things. I encouraged him to speak to her directly.

    We talked about land use. Here is a guy who is obviously bright and successful, but he thought that he was paying low taxes on his farm. I pointed out that he was paying the same as anybody else on all his structures, and then paying additional for the empty land.

    He intends to keep the land open, and that’s nice, but when I explained to him what is really going on, it was as if he was struck with a bolt of lightning. He had simply never thought about it that way. He is going to pay to keep most of that land open, whether he wants to keep it that way or not.

    The money he pays is going to support those in the service districts, but there is no money going the other direction. I don’t see how that can be sustained, even by people like my friend with considerable assets. I don’t see that a plan like this promotes conservation: it just punishes it, and after we spoke he saw the light.

    He thinks he is going to raise vegetables on his steep and rocky land. Some people do get by that way, but looking at his place, all I can say is good luck: goats would be a better choice. He’ll probably hae to terrace the whole place, like Machu Pichu, if he can get the construction permits.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Ray, I can’t speak for the circumstances in Fauquier, and I’m only surmising now about Frederick… But the advantage to farmers in Frederick, I would think, is this: Because there is less opportunity for development outside the UDA, the land values are lower. If land values are lower, the taxes are lower — lower than they would be, at least, if anyone could build anywhere and speculators were driving up the cost of land.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Spotsylvania’s version of this is what is called a Primary Settlement Area. The concept is the same as far as I can tell.

    Is Ray presuming that the cost of infrastructure required to service the UDA/PSA would be allocated to all taxpayers?

    In Spotsylvania, the land inside the PSA is designated for minimal density – and most development proposals would have to be rezone proposals – at which point the proffer guidelines kick in for schools and other infrastructure.

    Most of these areas are now targeted for mixed-use and would require CDAs for road infrastructure.

    Water/Sewer is already covered as fairly substantial availability fees (about 15K for water/sewer) apply.

    In addition, there is discussion of allowing density bonuses IF the developer makes a willing seller/willing buyer arrangement for transfer of property rights – but this is still under discussion.

    However, it is NOT nirvana because sooner or later – as development proceeds – the development community comes back and asks that the boundary be “moved out” because there are fewer and fewer developable properties.

    This is arguable – in fact very arguable… because what some of the developers want is “greenfield” 1/4 acre lot SFH development opportunities vice apartments, townhouses and infill-type development.

    But the key is NOT to just designate an Urban Development Area for any/all density “by-right” but to designate the area as “developable higher-density POTENTIAL … PER NEGOTIATION .. about the kind, shape, scope, scale, communityh “fit”, etc .. and not the least infrastructure provisioning.

    I think the community has every right to decide what kind of development it wants and where it wants it.

    I also think this is fair to all parties and avoids the issue that Ray is alluding to with “winners” and “losers”.

    Bottom line though is that it is the PRIMARY responsibility of any community government to accommodate growth per its financial ability to do so while maintaining Levels of service and quality of life for all of it’s citizens.

    ….not to provide county-wide land-development opportunities for all that own land.

  4. Toomanytaxes Avatar
    Toomanytaxes

    Speaking of winners and losers, a friend sent me a copy of an email message from Fairfax County Public School officials discussing why the target proffer is so low. For a number of reasons, no names will be divulged. The following might give a better flavor for why so many of us don’t want any development under TODAY’s rules of the road.

    “[FCPS] updated the proffer amount using the formula specified in the adopted Residential Development Criteria (RDC); it reflects our latest experience with construction costs and represents a considerable increase (55%) from the previous proffer amount. My guess is [Ms. Y] has a problem with the formula itself, that’s a matter the Board of Supervisors would have to address by changing the proffer guideline in the RDC. You may recall the Planning Commission and BOS adopted a formula that applies a level of service adjustment that essentially lowers the cost per student by 50%, the rational being all of our students aren’t served by new schools; this adjustment results in a pretty conservative formula. You may also recall the Planning Commission was surprised at the big increase when we did our update, not a lot of push back but some concern.”

    Also keep in mind that the new target proffer is $11,630, which substantially trails those of nearby jurisdictions. But then, Gerry Connolly and his colleagues did adjust the real costs downward. They also apply a discount for the use of trailers for classrooms. The formula does NOT include any costs for land, permits, fees or equipment either.

    Finally, please note the concern for the builders from the members of the Planning Commission. Development is a loser for current residents of Fairfax County unless they are employed directly or indirectly by the big landowners and developers.

  5. Toomanytaxes Avatar
    Toomanytaxes

    I forgot to add that FCPS applies the student-yield ratio (the number of students produced by the average new home, broken down by category of dwelling) to the discounted cost factor ($11,630). Thus, the builder of a $1.5 M condo at Tysons Corner would pay less than $1000 for the schools. If one were to assume remodeling costs of $150 per square foot, as per FCPS’ 2006 CIP and also rounded up the proffer to $1000, each of the new condos would add 6.67 square feet to the schools.

    This is one more reason why the smart growth movement has some opposition in Fairfax County. Under these circumstances, why wouldn’t many of us rather see new homes being built outside Fairfax County.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “….not to provide county-wide land-development opportunities for all that own land.”

    I’m not suggesting that this should be the case. Only that where development opportnities do exist, at whatever level of density, the county should not throw up additional burdens, just because you are not in the PSA, Service Area, UDA or whatever.

    “Is Ray presuming that the cost of infrastructure required to service the UDA/PSA would be allocated to all taxpayers?”

    Yes, that is pretty much what I am assuming. In fact, I’m assuming that those outside the development areas will pay more. It is stated that this is the case now in most areas as in “Farms pay $3 in tax for every $1 in service they receive.”

    My new neighbor is doing a fine job, restoring those old structures. But even calling them structures is a strech: they were collapsed piles of rubble,lacking roofs, walls and plumbing.

    But in the end, he will wind up with four or five dwellings on his property, and I won’t. The county will wind up supporting three or four new famlies. The only difference is that his old rights were protected with physical property and mine were not.

    And he proposes actively working toprevent any more development in the area.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here is an interesting URL for some localities in Va:

    http://www.albemarle.org/upload/images/Forms_Center/Departments/Board_of_Supervisors/Forms/Agenda/2006Files/20060201/Profferpolicyattacha.pdf

    In Spotsy:

    SFD – 17.3K
    Town House – 11.3K
    Multi-Family – 2.8

    A substantial difference between SFD and multi-family…

    Could that be what is in play in Fairfax?

    It would seem to me.. and I admit I might be way wrong.. that in Fairfax.. new housing is primarily
    apartments… rather than SFD… and at least, in theory, less kids…

    wrong?

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “In Spotsylvania, the land inside the PSA is designated for minimal density – and most development proposals would have to be rezone proposals – at which point the proffer guidelines kick in for schools and other infrastructure.”

    “…the key is …to designate the area as “developable higher-density POTENTIAL … PER NEGOTIATION ..”

    This is exaactly my point and this is what I refer to a cynical. First you lower the density designation through downzoning or other means. Then you create A Service area or UDA. Then you put the development potential back on the table through “negotiation.” By doing so you are now saying that the development potential has such value that you must buy it from the county, seperate from the property. Even if that development potential existed and was part of the property price before the county too it away.

    So, when they take it away, well you don’t really have that right and it isn’t worth anything, but when you want it back you have to pay for it (again).

    But at least if you are in the UDA you get the opportunity to negotiate. By itself, that right is worth something. We are simply not recognizing the tremendous transfer of wealth all this entails. Outside the UDA they take that right away, and you never see it again.

    I’d rather pay 45% tax on a million dollars of income than 15% tax on $60,000 of income. But I would really hate paying 15% and the paying another 30% for the privilege of being forbidden to earn the other $940,000.

    That’s what is happening to farmers. It is NOT a benefit to them to have the value of their land reduced. Especially when they pay extra for the privilege.

    It’s OK to speculate inside the UDA and not outside? That’s why lots become unavailable there: people that own developable lots hold on to them for a higher price next year. That’s why developers then push to have the boundary moved. It is also why it is stark raving mad to put conservation greenbelts around the service areas.

    And why does that speculation occur inside the UDA? Because those outside the UDA are paying the price, and getting NONE of the benefit.

    I really don’t have any problem with the UDA’s, and I don’t have any problem with rural conservation. But it takes money. Cash Flow. You cannot expect to have rural conservation by stagnating the area and expecting people to pay extra for the privilege. While they are out there doing their conservation jobs for free, or at a loss, they are also making it easier and more profitable for those who are allowed to speculate in the UDA.

    If you are going to have the cash flow that makes conservation practical, it is going to have to come from the UDA’s.

    Transfer of development rights is one way, but you can’t do that without recognizing that they are valuable property.

    Another way is direct payment for environmental services, as is done in some other countries.

    Another way is off farm jobs, and that is most of what is happening here. The UDA’s provide the jobs and wealth that permit buying that place in the country. And guess what? Those same people that made their money speculating in the UDA, now get their place in the woods at a deep discount to its real value – because the development rights have already been stolen.

    And then, they will want a good road network to get them to their jobs, ETC. ETC. ETC. I don’t think you wind up saving the countryside by making it the exclusive province of the wealthy.

    One way or another, the money to keep the countryside secure is going to come from the UDA’s. Until we recognize that, we will not have adequately planned our land use.

  9. Toomanytaxes Avatar
    Toomanytaxes

    Larry,

    The most recent data for “Residential Development Activity” in Fairfax County is for January 2004. For all stages of development, from proposed rezoning to construction was 37,475 units (11,463 SF; 16,601 TH; and 9,411 MF — both garden apartments and mid-to-high rises). http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/demogrph/demrpts/resdsd.pdf

    Application of the student yield factor for single family houses (.479) to the discounted cost factor, a/k/a the target proffer, of $11,630 produces a whopping $5571 for schools from each new single family home. That is comparable to what Prince William County receives from a multi-family unit.

    The problem is not with the student yield factor. Rather, it’s with the county putting its thumb on the scale to give a big discount to builders. Fairfax County simply will not attempt to recover a fair proportion of its infrastructure costs from developers. Keep in mind that we are not asking for draconian and rare treatment of new construction. Just treatment that is similar to what many of the very same builders are paying when they build in nearby counties.

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “This is exaactly my point and this is what I refer to a cynical. First you lower the density designation through downzoning or other means. Then you create A Service area or UDA. Then you put the development potential back on the table through “negotiation.”

    interesting.. how the perspective is so .. 180 degrees.

    What if… they didn’t do anything.. and just said we’re going to be like Facquier?

    From my perspective – what they’re trying to accomplish is to allow some limited development that they can
    have some control over in terms of provisioning the infrastructure necessary to maintain a reasonable level of service/quality of life.

    From your perspective.. they’re.. essentially up to no good… setting up nefarious rules that will harm landowners.

    back to square one.

    They don’t have to do anything other than say “no”.

    You say that is not “right”.

    I agree.

    But the point is .. that they do have the right to say no…. even if both of us and others think it wrong.

    Again… I think they’re trying for some middle ground – that won’t set up a situation where their country will go from a low rate of growth to one that is even higher than Spotsy/Stafford and the top 10 in the USA.

    If … there is another path… that is in your mind.. more fair/equitable… but still protects the country and it’s taxpayers from runaway growth.. degradation of levels of service and quality of life …. what is it?

    Put something on the table .. that addresses the concerns of all parties… something constructive that moves the issue forward…

    taking potshots from the back of the church is fun… but very unproductive…

  11. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Ray Hyde: Maybe I could understand this better with graphics. We need to get that book together on definitions etc.

  12. Gold_h2o Avatar

    On paper this is a good plan and I hope it works. I live in Winchester and I want to see it work.

    But, its success, or lack thereof, depends greatly on one thing – that thing is completing the Eastern Bypass to Rt. 37 which would essentially be a beltway around Winchester.

    For more info, check out this link, http://www.winchesterstar.com/TheWinchesterStar/061031/Area_corridor.asp

    If I am not mistaken, most of the UDA lies within the beltway or very close to it which is exactly where you want the growth to occur. However, the price tag to complete the beltway is somewhere in the $300 million range.

    Per the Winchester Star article:

    “Assistant County Administrator Kris C. Tierney said there was no breakdown of what percentage of funding would come from the county, state, or federal government. …..I think it is almost impossible to see when, how, and in what proportion it will be paid for, he said.

    Tierney said because of state issues with funding transportation, he did not see the Virginia Department of Transportation coming in and building the road…….

    “It is most likely going to be built through the private sector and our proffer system…..”

    County officials did much of the work on the eastern portion of the route in 1992 and most of the new effort will involve refining the corridor, Bishop said…..

    “The only thing I see that could hold us up would be getting comments back from VDOT,” Bishop said.

    The true difficulty will be obtaining government funding, he said.

    “The first thing is that change is going to have to come at the state and federal level.”

    State and federal officials have been reluctant to provide money for transportation projects in recent years, Bishop said, adding that he doesn’t know when funding would be available.

    “It is hard to predict the political process.”

    So, in many ways we are back to where we started…..WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR THE ROAD?

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR THE ROAD?”

    Take ANY road in ANY locality in Virginia and ask that same question.

    Isn’t this road the responsibility of Winchester and environs – the same who will derive benefits from it?

    When folks say the state needs to “fund investments” like this one – are you really advocating that money
    be taken away from other Virginians who do not live in Winchester to pay for it?

    More to the point. Are those folks in other areas of Virginia ALSO expecting YOU to pay for THEIR roads?

    Do you think us folks in Fredericksburg are hoping/expecting to build our roads that we cannot afford with money from Winchester residents? Do you think folks in Winchester are expecting Fredericksburg taxpayers to pay for your road?

    It looks to be that everyone is going to the State and asking the State to build their local roads which they say they cannot afford …. essentially with other locality’s money.

    The most amazing thing to me is that …. apparently this IS.. how many people feel. I’m just totally blown away by the logic behind it… coming from folks who under other circumstances are totally sane and rational.

    Here’s a really simple exercise for all of us.

    Total up all the costs of roads you want to build in your locality – like Winchester.
    Now go find out how many licensed drivers there are in Winchester.

    Now divide the latter into the former and the result is each person’s PER CAPITAL share.

    Now.. take that number and figure out how Winchester is going to obtain the amount of money from each person.

    VOILA! Problem Solved! and you didn’t even have to talk to the State about it!

    and the best part – you get to build the road whenever you’re ready! 🙂

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: school proffers in Fairfax

    I’m a bit befuddled by this.

    Several thousand dollars is not chump change but compared to the price of a SFD in Fairfax,
    it’s gotta be a “blip”… right?

    One answer that would be interesting.

    In Spotsylvania, 70% of our total budget goes to Schools.
    For some reason in Prince William – 50% is the number

    I wonder what it is in Fairfax?

    Fairfax has roughly 10 times the population of Spotsylvania … and from what I hear
    one of the best school systems in the country.. some of the highest teacher salaries
    and.. I think one of the highest per pupil funding in the state perhaps the country.

    Also… how much revenue is one penny for Fairfax?

    For Spotsylvania – one penny on the tax rate generates one million dollars – so you can see what
    a 60 million dollar school would do if we did not collect proffers.

    What is the situation in Fairfax with respect to these numbers?

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Is Ray presuming that the cost of infrastructure required to service the UDA/PSA would be allocated to all taxpayers?”

    Yes, that is pretty much what I am assuming. In fact, I’m assuming that those outside the development areas will pay more. It is stated that this is the case now in most areas as in “Farms pay $3 in tax for every $1 in service they receive.”

    If the county collects adequate proffers – they will not – and that is my point about new development.

    I agree with the 3 to 1 pay back for farms/undeveloped land but look at the total numbers – to get some proportionality in the perspective. Also – you’re quoting a number – often quoted – for productive farmland – not land that is taxed at a far lower rate obtained by having it designated as taxable by it’s actual use.

    re: density

    Without water/sewer – density – of the scope/scale we’re talking about with respect to UDA/PSAs is a no-go. There may be some places where you can have a common drain field for apartments and town-houses but usually water/sewer is needed.

    It costs big bucks to extend water/sewer – who would pay for this?

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    In the bigger discussion about UDAs it needs to be recognized that water/sewer is pretty much mandatory for the densities that one would see/expect in such areas.

    Some folks have advocated having UDAs as “pod” type villages where claims are made that compact development can be used to surround the new village with green/open space….

    We’ve seen such proposals in Spotsylvania.

    The hang-up on this is water/sewer.

    The issues is .. what happens to the land between where the sewer already is .. and the new development?

    and to the point here… should water/sewer boundaries match exactly with UDA boundaries?

    I ask this because.. water/sewer availability .. drives dense development more than a mere boundary drawn on a map.

    In Spotsylvania, our version of the UDA.. the PSA … has been the subject of heated disagreements at the BOS level with regard to whether people outside of the PSA can hook up to water/sewer .. a few feet away ..inside of the PSA.

  17. Toomanytaxes Avatar
    Toomanytaxes

    Larry, you asked two questions about Fairfax County. What percentage of the entire budget goes to schools? Answer: 51.9% for the fiscal 2007 budget. What is a penny on the real estate tax worth? Answer: $21.9 M for the fiscal 2007 budget. My source was the Fairfax County Department of Management & Budget.

    Cash proffers in Fairfax County are a farce. When requested, they don’t come anywhere near a fair contribution to actual costs impose on society because of development. Some are laughable. For example, the county approved rezoning for an expensive condo complex in downtown McLean. One of the proffers was money that is being used to put on entertainment for the community at the sight. Recently, the money funded “ghost stories for adults.” Wow, much better than putting money into Longfellow Middle School, which lacks hot water.

    Also, Fairfax County has admitted that it has no mechanism for tracking proffer collections and a recent supplemental appropriation by the BoS covered costs of projects that were supposed to paid by proffers.

  18. Gold_h2o Avatar

    Larry:

    “Isn’t this road the responsibility of Winchester and environs – the same who will derive benefits from it?”

    Maybe, maybe not. We send tax money to Richmond so in theory we should get that money back in the form of roads and schools, right?

    “It looks to be that everyone is going to the State and asking the State to build their local roads which they say they cannot afford …. essentially with other locality’s money.”

    Yes, this is 100% correct. But, localities can’t afford to build roads, etc., if they get back less than what they send to Richmond in terms of tax dollars….it’s a broken system.

    My main objective for pointing out the article and the Rt. 37 bypass issue was to make others aware that the UDA plan has basically put the horse in front of the cart. Without the bypass the UDA is nothing more than sprawl, albeit concentrated.

    No matter what plan any Delegate or Senator cooks up they all will require more roads which in turn means more money which then brings us back to where we stated….WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR THE ROADS?

    This was my major “beef” with the HOD plan to “reform” transportation policy in VA…..all roads to reform (no pun intended) leads back to the same question….WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR THE ROADS that will be needed to achieve true reform?

  19. Ray Hyde Avatar

    When I left the house today, I drove on some roads I had never been on before.

    I wonder who paid for them?

    I think this illustrates the problem with a user pays approach. We never really know who the users or beneficiaries are. Unless we are willing to impose an entire new technology and an entire new bureaucracy to keep track of all that information, and somehow bill it out approriately, then we will never know.

    And when all that was done, we still wouldn’t have any idea whether the result was better or worse than the method we have now. We don;t even know if such a plan would generate mor or less money. If it is more money then it is still a tax increases.

    For sure, such a plan would mean we would have less money to spend productively than if we just raised an equal amount of money through our current methods, because we would have to subtract out an entire new overhead. If the plan involves private enterprise, then we also have to pay to provide profit.

    Some things are better handled if we just put the money in a pot and then decide how to spend it best. The key is how to spend it best, not how to make the most political mileage.

  20. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I have just picked up a brochre entitled “Profiting From Preservation” and published by the Mosby Heritage Area Association, Inc.

    AHA, I thought when I saw the title, maybe someone gets it, after all. Maybe there is some hope for the kind of guy that wanted to convert an old historic manor house into a bed and breakfast, after all.

    The first part of the brochure has the ususal rolling hills, scenic region, Mosby’s heritage stuff you would expect. And it makes a convincing story about the economic benefits of tourism to the area.

    Then it gets down to brass tacks.

    “When property owners renovate and restore historic structures they make a very real contribution to the local economy…..”

    That’s when I stopped reading. I’m making enough contribution to the local economy. More than I can stand, in fact. I’m no longer interested in making contributions to the local economy, until they are willing to make some contributions back.

    That is why our views are 180 degrees apart. I’m the one paying the bills and doing the work. And when you see most of that effort benefiting others, it eventually gets old.

    Let’s go around on the land use tax one more time. I pay the same tax on my house and two acres as anyone else. At that point we are all even. You can argue that residences don’t pay enough tax to support themselves, and whether that is true or not, we are still even.

    Then I pay tax on two barns, hay storage sheds, equipment sheds, and my workshop, at regular rates. And all that is free money to the county because they provide no services, unless maybe one of them burns down, in which case the services will be to late to be of any value.

    Then I pay tax on all the vacant land. Any farm pays at the same rate, whether it is a profitible farm or not. It is the same rate whether the land is in conservation easement and used for nothing, whether it is in forest, or whether it is intensively grazed or cultivated.

    Then I pay taxes on the extra vehicles it takes to run the farm. If the farm does not make money, the difference is made up out of my income, on which I also pay taxes. Since I am required to farm in order to get all these “tax benefits” the amount of the loss is effectively a required contribution to the local economy.

    The sum of all those things are why farms pay $3 in tax for every $1 in services.

    I don’t understand your statement: “…for productive farmland – not land that is taxed at a far lower rate obtained by having it designated as taxable by it’s actual use.” For all intents and purposes there is no productive farmland, ot in Fauquier, Warren or Loudoun anyway. The average loss across all farms is $2000 apiece, more than canceling out the few large farms that make a profit primarily through agricultural price supports. If the land is worth $7000 an acre, you cannot make a profit farming it. Period.

    Regardless of what the farm is or isn’t making, it doesn’t matter. They are still paying out more than their share, and getting nothing back. So, if you want to talk to me about user pays, then let’s start the conversation with farms, not roads. At least with farms we have some hope of identifying who is paying for what.

    And that is not even considering that because I am prohibited from building or adding to my equity, I’m making it that much easier for someone else to profit. Someone who didn’t happen to be drawn outside the UDA.

    Go back to the brochure. “…every one million dollars that is spent rehabilitating historic buildings generates 15.6 construction jobs, 14.2 jobs in other sectors and $779,800 in household earnings.”

    So, tell me, why doesn’t the same argument apply to residential housing?

    The brochure talks about the Viginia Main Street Program, TAx Credit Programs, and Federal Enhancement projects.

    None of these have anything to do with the rolling hills and scenery their argument opened with. So where is the payback? The brochure states that there are 949 tourism related jobs in Fauquier worth $14.4 million.

    In Fauquier there are 398 farmers or farm managers and 375 other people employed in farming, fishing, and forestry. Plus, maybe another 600 “hobby farmers” whose employment is categorized elsewhere. And there are more than 8000 construction workers.

    Who do you suppose is going to win in that economic battle? The Rappahnnock-Rapidan Regional commission cites a reprt that says there may be no farms as early as 2010. I think that is utter hyperbole, and I can’t see it happening that soon, but there it is.

    And what do they propose? More specialty farms, more low risk farms, whatever that is, more vineyards, and most importantly “incentives to keep the family farm”. And transfer of development rights. (Of course that means that development rights must actually exist.) Cash flow. Money.

    By the way, my brochure states there are 3493 persons engaged in farming in Fauquier, which doesn’t match my census figures. The produced $47.4 million in market value of products. (Quite a bit of which was never sold.) Work it out yourself: its $13,569 in sales, per person employed. Could you stay in business that way?

    I don’t mean to personalize this, but what I know personally is what I know best, and I’m pretty sure it applies generally. I’m being told to relax and enjoy the experience at the same time I’m being raped by the county, because it is good for the community.

    I’ve got an 1830’s log barn here that is about to fall down. I’d love to preserve it. If I had been allowed to build the one house I wanted ten years ago, by now I’d have the cash flow and the equity to raise the capital needed to save that structure.

    Looked at that way, all I can see is that the county’s position is unreasonable, intransigent, pointless, and counterproductive, not tomention grossly unfair. So I look at what is happening to me month after month, and I figure the same thing is happening all over, whether people have focused on the problem or not.

    It is a guaranteed path to failure.

    I’m willing to work with anyone who’s got an idea that amounts to anything other than NO, but I don’t see it happening. The county has full time people working on bringing in new businesses, and nobody working to ensure that the assets people come here for can possibly remain. Let the county buy up some farm equipment and rent it out to farmers who need it. Anything is better than nothing, which is what we get now.

    You can hash this out any way you want about community benefits and preserving this or that. You can believe that those that build have no right to infringe on others while others have the right to infinge on those who wish to build. But if the county saves taxpayers a million dolars and it costs one taxpayer a million to do so, where is the benefit? Our reality is really that much different. I don’t think the answer to runaway growth is runaway growth restrictions, and runaway bureaucracy to manage the restrictions.

    If you really want to focus growth then you nedd to focus on the open space. If you really want to keep the farms and open space, you are going to have to make them profitable. One place to start is to cut out that $3 for $1 nonsense and zero it out, if not actually reverse it. Let all those people who say they want open space try paying for it, or at least part of the maintenance.

  21. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Florida and Michigan voted overwhelmingly to curtail government use of eminent domain to condemn land for public benefit as opposed to actual public use.

    If you draw in a UDA boundary isn’t that pretty similar to condemning the land outside the boundary for public benefit as opposed to actual public use?

    The fact that you didn’t actually use eminent domain to achieve the goal is a matter of degree, not a matter of substance.

  22. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “But, localities can’t afford to build roads, etc., if they get back less than what they send to Richmond in terms of tax dollars….it’s a broken system.”

    Awesome! We AGREE on the problem!

    Now – how to fix.

    Choice One – raise taxes.. continue to send money to Richmond .. and try to reform VDOT to allocate equitably.
    Choice Two – raise taxes – locally – do not send to Richmond. Do not let VDOT get their hand on it.

    Now I now where I am on this. Where are you – and why?

    🙂

  23. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: the $3 deal and a “productive” farm

    “Since I am required to farm in order to get all these “tax benefits”

    from a cost to you point of view – what is the difference between proving that you “farm” and not?

    What would happen if you did what the other large parcel owners did – set aside the land in a conservation easement?

    Again in terms of costs to you of doing so .. then compare to not doing so.

    What I get out of the dialogue is that you want to make money off of part of the land – and want to retain the option to repeat that option in the future….

    This is a not uncommon thing that owners of legacy farmland like to be able to do.

    In Spotsylvania – the statement that land is the farming family’s equivalent of a 401(k) that they can convert into cash whenever they have to send a kid to college, or get sick, or … any number of other personal reasons.

    But land is not fungible the same way that money is or commodities are because it’s part of the tapestry of a locale and ultimately others own and use it – in ways that impact the community.

    That’s why the law is set up to give localities a higher level right of land-use decisions that the person who owns the land but that right is tempered by the fact that those locality “rights” can and are affected by a majority of people who live there. In other words, if they don’t like what their elected officials are doing – they can – and DO vote them out (I write this as I listened to the election returns).

    Facquier is unique in Virginia (I think) and I would agree that your ability and “rights” with respect to your land are severely restricted – and from that point of view – agree that is seems overly restrictive and unwarranted.

    In essence, you’re living in the wrong place and the wrong time with the wrong majority of voting citizens/landowners.

    Change can happen – and I believe it will but in baby-steps.. incrementally. Sooner or later – land in your county will pass on to heirs who may have a very different view of what they think should be done. Some may totally agree with you … and over time… a gradual shift of attitudes that enables changes in restrictions.

    But I don’t buy the bigger agenda.. about landowner rights. Virginia is one of the fastest growing states in the country with land being converted (developed) at a dizzy pace – and logic would suggest that none of this would be happening… if the right to develop property in Virginia was unfairly restricted.

    In fact, many argue the opposite -that it is too “easy” to develop land and they are in favor of MORE restrictions (regardless of whether that is a good thing or a bad thing – just a political reality).

  24. Gold_h2o Avatar

    “Now I now where I am on this. Where are you – and why?”

    I am not in favor of sending more money to Richmond and getting less back.

    So, that leaves us with option #2.

    I would be in favor of raising taxes/bonds locally in combination with using money the county currently gets in the form of impact fees from developers to pay for the road…..I think the impact fee in Frederick Couty is around 20K-25K per house.

    But, here’s the kicker….A lot of people that would use the road are out of state drivers heading home to WV & MD…..shouldn’t they pay as well? I think they should. So, do we make it a toll road? My brain tells me yes but my heart tells me the project would be DOA if it were presented as a toll road.

    Here we go again…… 🙂

  25. Toomanytaxes Avatar
    Toomanytaxes

    Gold_H20 – For a toll road to be acceptable, doesn’t it need to provide drivers with some benefits that aren’t available using other roads? If a road, as you describe, is a faster, safer alternative than other nearby roads, I would suspect that drivers from West Virginia and Maryland, as well as from Virginia, would pay reasonable fees to use the toll road.

    I pay fees on the New Jersey Turnpike because it is the best alternative of the various roads heading to New York and beyond. I don’t pay fees on the Pennsylvania Turnpike because it isn’t the best alternative to get to Ohio and beyond. We need to think of roads as products. Make them desirable and price them reasonably for the benefit and toll roads will work. Think of them just as a source of funding and their performance will not be as satisfactory.

  26. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Larry, I have explained this time and again. The conservation easement option only makes sense to those that have a) a lot more income than I have, and b) a lot more assetst than I have.

    Even for them, the deal represents a loss, but it is one that they are willing to accept because it is small compared to their other assets and it buys them something they can believe in but I don’t.

    I cannot accept such a loss because it amounts to several times my current net worth.

    As it stands, the longer I wait the more the conservation easement is worth to someone who can afford it. Basically, I sell the right to take a conservation easement along with the land, and the combination is worth more to me than taking the consevation easement myself, and then selling the land.

    Call it speculation if you like: I didn’t make the rules. The fact reamins, that the more the land is worth, the less it is worth farming, and the more the conservation easement is worth to someone who can afford it.

    Farming is not a real option: it is a holding engagement. Stall the enemy off and make them pay dearly.
    Wait till the last minute and then install the granite counters, horse barns, and all the other stuff that will make this place an estate. Funded largely by tax exemptions.

    You are right. I’m living in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m living amongst a bunch of wealthy snobs who are willing to screw me to get what they want, without paying the true value of what the market is willing and able to pay.

    These are people who think it is wrong for me to do something they think MIGHT affect their values, but they see nothing wrong in taking actions that will affect mine.

    I’m willing to work with them, but they are unwilling to work with me. No matter what I do or propose, someone will find a way to object. And all the costs of making a proposal fall on me.

    I’m not saying that the right to develop property doesn’t exist. I’m saying that the right to develop it exists unfairly as a result of UDA’s. I’m perfectly willing NOT to develop my property, in fact I am eager for that not to happen. But I am not willing to bear all of the costs.

    Tis week, the FAuquier Democratpublished a lead editorial entitled “Full Funding”

    I am not a big fan of the Fauquier Democrat because I consider it to be a biased mouthpiece for the PEC through its owner, who I believe is a member.

    But this time they hit the nail on the head. I’m always wiling to give credit where credit is due, despite my (admitted) predilections.

    “Current conservation levels ar insufficient to meet the needs of farmers….”

    “…three out of four farmers who apply for conservation funding are turned down…”

    This is why I have never bothered to apply.

    “{AFT recommends]] .. simplifying the application process, doubling the funding for working lands conservation, and creating a conservation loan guarantee program to help producers finance additional conservation programs.”

    Hooray! Someone is finally listening.

    I still have a problem. There are far too many strings attached and doubling the funding isn’t anywhere near enough. My place could suck up a million dollars in conservation funds in a heartbeat.

    I’d be willing to attach strings for that kind of money. Now you are getting somewhere in the same order of magnitude as market value.

    But if you want me to sign away a conservation easement in exchange for a 1/3 contribution to 2000 feet of fence, then you need to take a hike.

    If you want conservation, then you are going to have to find a way to pay for it, and that money is going to have to come from those that benefit.

  27. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Thank you.

    I agree Fauquier is unique in Virginia. Based on quotes pointing to Fauquier from land use groups across the nation, I’d say it was unique nationwide.

    That little quote has made all of my efforts here worthwhile, whether or not they ever benefit my wife.

    I agre with you about the larger issues: it is all a matter of degree.

  28. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “I pay fees on the New Jersey Turnpike because it is the best alternative of the various roads heading to New York and beyond. I don’t pay fees on the Pennsylvania Turnpike because it isn’t the best alternative to get to Ohio and beyond. We need to think of roads as products. Make them desirable and price them reasonably for the benefit and toll roads will work. Think of them just as a source of funding and their performance will not be as satisfactory.”

    oh.. I couldn’t have said it better..

    roads – as products – yes.

    some products .. have huge mark-ups – has anyone ever paid more for a cup of soda than a 2 liter bottle of it?

    has anyone ever heard of “loss-leaders” – where they sell you something at cost – because they’re pretty sure…
    you’ll buy something else that has a good mark-up on it.. and they’ll come out ahead on the deal?

    We haven’t even scratched the surface with respect to operating toll roads – not as stand-alone segments – but as components of a network – explicitly designed to operate without taxpayer funds.

    and let me go one step further -… we argue about the “need” for a road… ranking and prioritizing them for funding.. and we decry the politics of the CTB… and Congressional earmarks for legislators “pet” roads –

    this goes away when you’re setting tolls according to demand and siting new toll roads according to potential demand.

  29. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Hey Ray – I think I have it.

    How about toll roads .. that pay into a conservation fund that pays full value for set-aside land?

    🙂

  30. I’ll consider anything that is better than nothing.

    I think that is a little over the top. On average farms are in the hole around $2000 a year. I’d guess if you came up with some combination of breaks that amounted to $5000 a year, then a lot less farms would go on the market, and focused growth would happen by itself.

    For Fauquier thats $5 million on a current $65 million dollar budget. So, who wants to sign up for a 5 cent tax increase? It wouldn’t even be five cents because they already have a penny in there for conservation easements.

    That would have been two pennies but the county had to back off because so many people were complaining about high taxes. Remember, these are the same people howling that we need to save our agricultural heritage and our open space.

    I am indifferent between developing this place and maintaining it as it is, provided I don’t have to do it at a loss.

    —————–

    You want to make roads pay their own way and stand alone, I’m all for it. But you have to do the same for Metro and everything else we share costs for. Let residential housing pay its own full costs and stop riding on my back. All I’m suggesting is that we make consistent arguments.

    ————————–

    When I go to New England I go through Pennsylvania to avoid the Jersey turnpike. It is only forty miles farther, and a lot prettier.

  31. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Say you set up a system where farms brought in 5K a year.

    Wouldn’t that result in the price of acreage going through the roof?

    But what’s the justification for doing this?

    (remember it was you who advocated consistency.. and I agree)…

    why would we do this for undeveloped land and not developed land?

    or .. would you distinguish between a farm and undeveloped non-farm land?

    I’m trying to understand this in a bigger context than just Facquier…
    expand it out to Virginia state-wide…

  32. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: Jersey Turnpike

    you made a choice… based on time and money… right?

    why not have a system where those choices result in adequate funding for roads?

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