Jim Wamsley raises an important point with respect to the application of Henry George in his comment on “Shades of Henry George” posted yesterday.

Wamsley suggests the application of “concentric areas.” In the context of Regional Metrics we call these “Radius Bands.”

This tactic for application of Henry George would work well for small, isolated urban agglomerations that do not exceed the scale of an Alpha Community –25,000 to 200,000 population depending on the distance the agglomeration is from the nearest large New Urban Region(s).

Simple concentric areas / Radius Bands will not work for the application of Henry George in larger agglomerations, especially for large New Urban Regions or their subregions. A discussion of this idea may, however, help some grasp the importance of a Comprehensive Conceptual Framework for understanding functional human settlement patterns.

In larger urban agglomerations such as the Virginia portion of the National Capital Subregions (population 2.2 million +/- ) one must also use place “concentric areas” / Radius Bands around the Core of each Alpha or Beta Community, the Core of each Alpha or Beta Village – especially if the Village-scale agglomeration has at its Core a shared-vehicle system station.

At S/PI we believe it would be necessary to have a set of Radius Bands around the Core of each Alpha or Beta Neighborhood and perhaps around the Cores of some Alpha or Beta Clusters.

These rings of differing urban intensity / flux would be overlapping (any given site in five or six different Bands) and thus very difficult to calibrate for a Henry George tax application.

It would be better to follow the Three-Step Process outlined in Handbook and sketched out in The Shape of Richmond’s Future,” 16 Feb 2004 at

Even with the Radius Band / concentric area technique, there is still the need for a Clear Edge between the Urbanside and the Countryside.

The application of “Reverse Henry George” as summarized by Jim Bacon in the original posting would be useful in the context of our notes although Henry George purists hate the idea with the passion of True Believers.

We recognize that those who are in denial about the organic structure of human settlement pattern and / or who hope to profit from the further scatteration of urban land uses across the Countryside (the creation of dysfunctional human settlement patterns) will attempt to obfuscate reality.


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24 responses to “MORE ON HENRY GEORGE”

  1. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    I would like to thank E M Risse for expanding on my two sentence comment.
    “A split rate tax system does not need to be based on one boundary. …” I envisioned a set of areas around the Core of each Alpha or Beta Neighborhood and perhaps around the Cores of some Alpha or Beta Clusters.

    These areas would be based on the current development patterns, using assessor’s records for land value and for improvement value. In the core area taxes would be assessed on land value. In one or more transition zones, taxes would be assessed on ratios of improvements to land values. Out side the “clear edge” residences and non agricultural improvements would pay the taxes.

    As EMR said in “The Shape of Richmond’s Future,” “At first these parameters may also sound hard to calculate, but recall how easy it is to do the gerrymandering now employed to ensure all the majority party candidates are in “safe” districts and the minority party candidates are in “unsafe” districts. Computers can do marvelous things.”'s_future.htm

    This does not change the current idea that every one should pay fair taxes. Each area would pay taxes based on the cost of services. Again, “Computers can do marvelous things.”

  2. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Jim W:

    Good amplification.

    I see now why you jumped on the “one line” implication and you are right.

    What the Clear Edge does is delineate where you go from Henry George to Inverse Henry George.

    Your observations are right on.


  3. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I’m not sure I would use gerrymandering as an example of the wonderful things computers can do. All that shows is that computers can do wonderfully screwed up things when the person driving the computer has an ulterior motive.

    The idea that each area would pay taxes based on the cost of services ignores the fact that many areas can’t afford the cost of services. Some areas use a lot more police services than other areas, and the other areas benefit. The areas that do use the most police services are frequently the ones that can afford to pay the least. Fairfax is exporting the cost of providing services to the labor force that its businesses require to adjoining jurisdictions. The labor force, in turn, is trying to exporting the cost of the roads they require to the state, but the state won’t pick up the tab, even though most of the money comes from NOVA.

    As it stands, we don’t even have the data to accurately show who travels where and when, even though we know exactly where the daily backups will occur. We certainly don’t have the data to show how one areas costs compare with another. What we do know is that taxes are hihghest in the most densly populated areas, which suggests that even if we had concentric rings of taxation, they might only exacerbate the situationwe have now.

    Whichever way that works out, if people in an area ar paying their full costs, then what is wrong with scatteration? I suspect that if such a thing occurred and it turned out that people willingly paid full price to live in scattered areas that he would dream up something new bad to say about everyone else.

    For the record, I consider Ed’s oblique attacks against those who wish to profit from scatteration to be a vaguely disguised personal attack. The only problem I have with profit is a lack thereof. As for scatteration there are at least some arguments that it makes more sense than constructing a city on a concrete slab over a railway station that provides access to less than 1% of the available destinations.

    I won’t hide the fact that I’d like to build one new home on the farm. With 170 acres to work with, that shouldn’t be a problem. I’d put it on site that I’m not farming anyway, and is unsuitable for that purpose. I’d build it as a modest equestrian oriented home, with the best green features affordable, and build it as an auxiliary dwelling without separating a lot from the farm. Both the income from the rent and the income from the equestrian activities would accrue to the farm, and be transferred with it when the farm is sold. And, hey, they already built the road to service it, across what was once a profitable farm.

    Unfortunately, I am prohibited from doing that, which is causing me a loss of income and it is costing the farm even more. The ALLOWABLE alternative is three fifty acre lots plus three houses crammed onto ten acres or so.

    I believe that Ed and I agree that the second scenario is a disaster: it will result in more scatteration, less land preserved, still more distributed services, and it would pander to the elite, who may very well be those most likely to travel long distances to high-powered jobs. But that is exactly what’s going to happen if I have no other alternatives.

    That screwed up circumstance is the direct result of zoning laws promulgated by morons who think they know what is best for the county, never mind what happens to its residents. Never mind the facts on the ground, we are going to make policy based on dogma.

    Bacon is right: people should be allowed to do as they please provided they pay the provable costs, but not the 10X fantsasy the ed would like to see charged.

    JAB is right: leave the capital alone and tax the income. When people are allowed to do as they please, they will mostly do what provides more income, or what ED calls egregious short term profits.

    If there is one thing people dislike it is change, even though change is the one thing that makes profits possible. If you have multiple, mutually interfering concentric bands of taxation around multiple alph beta nonsesnse communities that are themselves changing then it will take legions of data collectors and analysts to collect and rationalize the data, and legions more to run the models to tell each of us what we owe, down to the dooryard and cluster.

    Considering what computer geeks get compared to what road crews get, what do you suppose will be the least expensive option? One of the problems we have now is that there is no predictability in what we owe in taxes.

    I know how much I will earn next year and how much I can pay before I crack. That’s a target I can see and understand. But if it depends on a bunch of constantly changing concentric circles that depend, like the Marshall water supply, on how long we can put things off then I can’t make any plans whatsoever.

    So much for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; we’ll just turn that over all that nonsense to the sees-all knows-all central planner and his horde of computer geeks.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Not being able to build one home on 170 acres and the only alternative is 3 on 150 acres. I must be missing something.
    Why can’t the new house be put on 50 acres and move on with life? Is this the proverbial “cake and eat it too” with the house on less than 50 acres?

    With respect to “lines” and computers.

    My locality has tried to draw “the line” where the limits of water/sewer are.

    In addition, it allows land to be taxed for it’s use via a land-use tax.

    But let me use the water/sewer example as a contrast to the line concept.

    When water/sewer is extended the issue is WHO will pay for the line that will be extended.

    Customers who hook up in the existing service area pay an “availability” fee to offset the future capital costs to replace the capacity of the treatment plants that is being consumed.

    But say a line is extended 10 miles then beyond the availability fee, how would the cost of the extended line be allocated? Would the entire cost of the extention just be divied up and allocated to all or would them be some criteria where those farther away would pay more?

    I know the geography and demographics can be crunched with computers but I’m interested in how the implementation might work.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I’m not talking about cost of services issues. My position is that this is an engineering and financial problem. If services are to be provided then those that get the service can sit down with those that provide the service and negotiate something they can both live with. Or not. Maybe it is just too expensive.

    Maybe he builds his own sewer plant and agrees to staff it with certifed county personnel. But, if it is just a matter services and the provable costs therof, then NO is not a valid option.

    How the costs are allocated is a different matter. Say I have a hardware store in town, and I live above the store. I might object to paying any part of the new cost of sewer line, because I don’t need it. But, some of those new homeowners may turn out to be my customers, so I can’t claim there is no benefit. Maybe all those homes in the hinterland make my central location worth more. That’s a benefit, too, but I’d still hate to pay higher taxes on something I haven’t got yet. But if I’m taxed only on income, both those objections go away.

    I’m all in favor of allocations that are more fair, if we can figure out what they are. Right now we decided it is fair to have business taxes subsidize home taxes. Maybe its right and maybe its not, but thats what we have and what we agreed to do. To then turn around and say, no new homes because they don’t pay their way amounts to a new requirement, and it is bogus.

    Maybe the county says we are only going to run school buses 15 miles from the school, if you live outside of that you have to provide transportation. But as Bacon points out, you can’t just say no on that basis, people ought to be able to pay their own costs and live where they please. And, if the bus already goes past the new house, well, you don’t have (much) of an argument.

    Using the costs of services argument against development is a loser. If the costs are not allocated fairly, then argue that, but don’t use increased costs or bad allocation as an excuse to get what you want. And don’t gin up bogus costs because that only makes the argument weaker and more transparent yet.

    People can’t (or may not be able to) live where they please if the present owner is forbidden to sell. I’ve explained this before, and apparently people don’t believe it. I can theoretically build six houses, by-right. MAYBE, but unlikely as a ten legged toad,I could get even more with a rezoning and big enough proffers on the table.

    But, practically speaking, I can’t build just one. I can’t build one without separating a lot. In order to separate a lot I must file a subdivision plan that will cost around $100,000, whether I file it for one home or for six. The hundred thousand dollar figure is an estimate that still has a number of open ended TBD’s in it t could be a lot more.

    The county will probably jerk me around for a year or so and cause me to change the plan several times until it is to their liking.

    Then I still have to execute all the stuff that is in the plan. Surveys, roads built to state standards, drainage, environmental studies, tree census, soil survey, and traffic studies, etc.

    The only way you can afford to do it is to spread the cost over as many houses as possible. That is why you see a farm one day and a subdivision the next. It is what the rules require.

    Even if I could put one house on fifty acres, practically speaking it would need to be a fine large home, and I couldn’t afford to build it or keep it. Instead of farming it, I’d wind up mowing the guy’s forty acre lawn, or maybe I’d still farm it and he’d get the tax benefit. He would have the salary to use it where I don’t.

    It is part of a deliberate plan to subsidize and game the system in favor of having only wealthy people live here. My supervisor told me that to my face, in so many words.

    It’s a great plan, and I think every county should employ it. All we have to do is make everybody wealthy enough to live that way.

    There is no real government exigency in much of the requirements: they are artificial barriers for the sole purpose of preventing development. For example, one requirement is soil samples every four hundred feet. The county already has a soils map, but I will have to hire a soils engineer and dig holes all over the property just so we can say, yep, agrees with the map. The only real soil requirement is under the house and in the drainage field. The rest of the soil is still going to be what it is and where it is, with or without the expense of the survey.

    Some one will no doubt say “Oh no, this is important data and the government needs to have it.” Fine, they can send their engineer and dig their own holes. They did it once before and that’s how they got the map they have.

    Rather than mow the guy’s lawn, I’d likely I’d take the money and retire to Mexico or Costa Rica. Except I have the same problem as Bacon

    The point is it isn’t what I want. It is what somebody else wants. I agree with EMR that a house on fifty acres is stark raving nuts. Yes, I want to have the cake and eat it too, if that’s what you choose to call it. Either way, it is still my cake. I think my plan is better than the county’s plan, but as far as they are concerned, it is not even a matter to discuss.

    What I want is a modest home, as an auxiliary unit to the farm, not a separate lot. It would be a rental that comes with horse facilities, riding privileges. I can situate it so it improves the farm and not destroy it. Id rent it to a teacher or a state trooper to keep the poachers out, maybe. The income would be more than the rest of the farm makes, and enough to offset the other losses. When the farm is sold it would transfer with the farm and continue to make the farm more affordable than otherwise.

    I would incorporate green features in the house. But under the county plan, I can’t afford to do anything. I’d have to get investors or a developer, or both to meet all the requirements, and, just as EMR found, they aren’t likely to agree to anything strange, expensive, untried, or “green” that doesn’t meet their market analysis. And they would insist on maximizing their short term profits, meaning as many homes as possible as large as possible. I’d wind up with something I don’t want and they would get most of the money.

    There are several farms near me with as many as four auxiliary units, and they do quite nicely. The reason they are able to do it is that those units were built before the zoning laws. Some of them are ostensibly over a hundred or even two hundred years old, although you couldn’t tell it now.

    Once upon a time, we could have done the same. But those rights were taken when zoning came along. Since then the remaining rights have been whittled away on three separate occasions. But, those that used their rights when they existed can still prosper because of it. It’s a case of those that preserve the land the longest get punished the most.

    I have no doubt whatsoever that there are people out there working up for the next round in the woodshed. So when you look at the rash of crash building going on in Loudoun, (quick before the rules change again) its no wonder.

    If it is really and truly a matter of costs, then figure out what they are and send me a bill so I can make plans or decide not to.

    If it is a matter of costs that are not “fair”, then lets work on that.

    But don’t use that as an excuse to say that someone else can’t do something just because we all hate (more, not our own) development.

    If you have a new drainage requirement that uses up four of my building lots, then why not allow more building on the remainder, the net density remaining the same, or let me sell the building rights? Why just take them with no recompense? It’s because it has nothing or little to do with drainage and everything to do with the fact that we don’t want (more, not our own) development.

    But don’t do what Fauquier did, which is tell me, in writing, several times, what we are allowed to do, and then, after I spent money on their plan, say oops, sorry, now you can’t do that, the door is closed.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: engineering/financial problem.

    It’s basically the cost of the infrastructure and who pays.

    re: tax on income only – if this were done how would infrastructure costs be allocated because I doubt seriously that income tax only would come close to paying the actual infrastructure (but maybe they might).

    re: “business taxes subsidize home taxes” – this is an Urban Legend. think about this..
    where do those business taxes come from?
    They come from adding an extra fee to the sales of goods and services.
    Businesses do not pay taxes – they pass ALL of them on to customers and what’s left is Gross Profit.

    However, you make a strong case with respect to rules and policies whose intent and impact is to make it difficult to develop your land and I don’t disagree except to point out that the reason this is done is precisely because officials know that there is substantial financial exposure for infrastructure if they allowed you and others to develop.

    Simply stated – they cannot afford to let you develop because if they did – they’d have to provide infrastructure that they don’t know where the money would come from under the current tax regime.

    I’d posit that if we had a road capitalization policy similiar to many water/sewer policies that the restrictions against property development might ease because the financial liability issue itself would ease.

    In other words – first there would be an “availability” fee – that would the fee paid into a capital investment fund that would be used to expand capacity on the overall network. (similiar to the “availability fee” on water/sewer).

    Then each new home would have to pay their share of what it would take to upgrade the road to serve all the residences that would be ultimately built along that road. That cost could be computed by looking at the build-out potential then the amount of traffic generated.. then the design of the road necessary to move that traffic.

    You would be allowed to develop your property once it was assured there was enough money to service the bond for the road improvements.

    THIS IS THE ISSUE. WHO .. pays the bond to insure that adequate road capacity exits for development to proceed.

    Developers do this all the time. They get a loan. They build the infrastructure. Then they sell subdivided land as fast as they can to recover their money so they can pay back the loan and recover their investment plus any profit.

    What you’re asking is that you and others be allowed to sell and develop land with no responsibility for the infrastructure impacts. You’re, in essence, advocating that those costs are not your costs but someone elses costs.

    There is nothing that prevents you and others around you from banding together in a limited partnership to offer a developpment plan to your superviors that assures that infrastructure does not become a liability to the county – more to the point – to county taxpayers.

    The claim that we have a system where the “little guy” can’t develop his land is really about those who want to develop property without having responsibilities for the infrastructure deficits that will result as a direct consequence.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Maybe he builds his own sewer plant and agrees to staff it with certifed county personnel. But, if it is just a matter services and the provable costs therof,”

    There’s problems with this approach.

    1. – First, private water/sewer authorities go belly-up then what?

    I’d only be in favor of this if those who connected had to be financially responsible under any/all scenarios and never the taxpayers.

    2. – How do you allocate discharge permits into public waters?

    Are you advocating treatment plants that do not discharge at all?

    AT Lake Anna – in Spotsylvania County – there are folks who want water/sewer but because Dominion Power only releases a minimal amount of water – those folks cannot get a discharge permit.

    So.. they want.. either someone to force the state to give them a permit (in essence pollute beyond acceptable limits).

    OR.. they want the county to construct a 10 mile extention of water/sewer to serve their area – and of course they want the county and it’s taxpayers to foot the bill…

    It’s been pointed out to them that they could undertake the expansion themselves as private investors but of course everyone knows that it’s not a profitable enterprise.

    so.. they continue to lobby the county to give them “relief” … which is in my mind disengenious because what they want is others to pay for what they want.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    My comments above probably sound more harsh than they should.

    I AM sympathetic to the -unwarranted- imposition of abitrary rules that result in inequities.

    but I maintain that these inequities are, in fact, responses to other inequities that result from development that occurs and results in infrastructure deficits.

    The inequity is that taxpayers end up with both the Tax Bill AND impacts to quality of life as a direct result of degradation of levels of service due to development that not not pay it’s own way with respect to infrastructure.

    elected officials have essentially three choices:

    1. raise property taxes as high as it takes to pay for any/all infrastructure that results from unfettered development.

    2. allow infrastructure to degrade and deteriorate in terms of service while raising taxes only as much as they can get away with.

    3. Place draconian, unfair and inequitable limits on infrastructure-dependent development to only what the locality can reasonably financially absorb… over time.

    The answer to the bigger issue is to ensure that development does pay it’s own way with regard to infrastructure to start with.

    If existng policies don’t ensur=e adequate provisioning of infrastructure in the first place – then bad stuff (inequities) flow downhill from taxpayers to individual property owners in the form of elections where those officials who raise the tax rate get voted out and replaced by those who promise to restrict growth.

    Property owners who support reform to fix the infrastructure issue – help their own cause – and property owners that fight policies and laws to ensure adequate infrastructure – hurt their own cause – because in doing so – they perpetuate a continuation of policies that restrict property owners.

    All of the above is quite obviously opinion – and I’m sure arguable but I hope it doesn’t sound as harsh or uncaring as perhaps earlier posts have.

  9. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I think we are on the same page, mostly.

    I agree with what you say about businesses supporting housing being an urban legend. My position is that one way or another all the bills that get paid are paid by someone who lives in a house: as you say businesses pass their costs back to us.

    And all the taxes that get paid get paid out of income. My real estate doesn’t pay the taxes, they come out of my pocket. We can push and shove and have user fees, and tax this, tax that, but they all come out of our pocket in the end. I don’t see anything wrong with more of a user pays approach. Where I have a problem is when there is no relationship whatever between usage and charges, and no relationship between ability to pay and charges.

    My county proudly claims I’m paying three times as much as I cost, and they don’t see anything wrong with that! Those that have infrastructure are pushing the costs off onto those of us that don’t have it. And then they claim we can’t have it because THEY are paying to much already.

    I have two roads out front that were built partially at the farms expense over thirty years ago. You can play baseball on the street here. All that time the farm has been paying 300% of what it costs, plus giving land for the highway. And now you think I should pay more?

    Maybe that’s right. If so, send me the bill and get out of my way. But that isn’t what is happening here. What is happening here is that they don’t want development under any circumstances, anywhere, ever.

    In areas where property values and taxes have gone up 20 times as fast as wages, something is going to have to give, eventually. One acre lots in Alexandria are going to become quarter acre lots, or townhouses or condos. But if development and subdivision is restricted because of the cost of infrastructure, people will have to move out. They can’t subdivide, can’t afford to stay, or housing isn’t available, which amounts to the same thing.

    But where will they move to if everyplace is restricted from development? Meanwhile the same thing is happening to people with fifty acre lots or two hundred acre lots. Eventually, you just can’t afford it, and you have to downsize or move out.

    Unless you are so wealthy it never makes a difference, which is what my local government wants. So they prohibit downsizing knowing that you will have to go and be replaced by someone wealthy. Which is exactly what my supervisor said to my face. It has nothing to do with infrastructure.

    Yet it is exactly this urban legend that houses don’t pay their costs that is used explicitly and frequently by the county and others to exclude new building. My point is that if it is an urban legend then houses do pay their way, and cost of infrastructure is an invalid argument.

    If they don’t pay their way, then it is at least partially unfair to push all the costs off on newcomers as impact fees, because some of the costs are really ours: our teenagers are now driving, etc. Some of the costs are just cost growth. Either way, if it is just a cost issue it does not justify saying no, permanently. It does justify raising the price and reallocating who pays for what.

    We see this in planned communities. They have not assessed the present owners enough for their infrastructure so instead of raising the fees they added an initiation fee only to new residents. Stuff costs more so fees and taxes have to go up. Get used to it.

    However, even though infrastructure is a real issue, and it must be paid for some way, that isn’t the real reason for what is going on here. Here, they are deliberately creating a lack of infrastructure and then using it as a smokescreen to cover their actual intentions. And if it is an Urban legend that housing doesn’t pay its own way, then county officials are outrght lying about their reasons for preventing growth, because they use that argument frequently.

    What is going on here is that those in power have decided that they don’t want development, ever, under any circumstances, never. They are planning a Third Reich of conservation that they intend to last a thousand years.

    One official said “Zoning only works so long as the body politic has the political will.” Well, who does he think the body politic is? Another said, “My intention is to put land use on autopilot for the next twenty years.”

    So, their plan is to put as much land as possible into conservation easements so that their successors can NEVER undo the plans they make. They are deliberately abdicating their authority for land use for themselves and their successors, to nongovernment agencies. It amounts to stealing the right to vote on land use issues from our grandchildren.

    It is the reason they have PDR program but not a TDR program. They don’t want the development anywhere, not even in the so called service districts. It is the reason they have reduced the size of the service districts and eliminated one entirely. It is the reason they plan to encircle the service districts with conservation greenbelts, so they can never grow when needed.

    It is the reason they have succesively and continually abrogated previous promises made in order to take the sting out of earlier downzonings.

    One of the required proffers is that in order to build on 15% of your land you must hand over a conservation easement on the other 85%. Since you are already forbidden by zoning to build on that 85%, no additional protection is needed or gained. The only reason for the permanent easement requirement is to ensure that the present government can dictate its policies from the grave. This requirement makes it clear that when they say growth management, what they mean is no growth, ever.

    It is antidemocratic, and it is wrong. I shouldn’t have to sign away permanently rights I already don’t have and can’t use, as a condition of using the rights I do have.

    No growth is the reason the Marshall water supply has been a disgrace for thirty years. It is one thing to say we are temporarily out of water taps, or that new water taps are going to now cost twice as much because the cost of adding water service has doubled since the last expansion. It is something else to say we are not going to create any more water taps, ever.

    The only reason they are doing it now is that they have finally run out of excuses, the public is irate, it is a crisis situation and a public hazard. It is going to cost $6 million, and that isn’t nearly enough. They need to spend more like $18 million. But if they had done it ten years ago it would have been $3 million, and twenty years ago it would have been $1 million.

    They are deliberately creating a lack of infrastructure and then using that as an argument for preventing growth. Until very recently, their antipathy even to business was legendary.

    Anyway, isn’t the whole point of paying for infrastructure eith bonds to push the payments out so the new people can help pay for them? I’m not going to live forever, but even if I did, in this county it might no be long enough. Meanwhile, they are wasting my assets and my time. Whoever the wealthy SOB who buys this place at a huge discount to its true worth, may wind up being the guy who makes another killing when he gets to subdivide it later.

    That is exactly what happened to the original landowners on Martha’s Vineyard. They got screwed by exactly what is going on here, but the second and third landowners made out big time.

  10. Ray Hyde Avatar

    This isnt about infrastructure.

    In the first place we have none here, unless you count the convenience dump site.

    In the second place, right down the street from me a guy is building ahous on a six acre lot, no problem. It is a by-right build.

    I have six acres too, only mine is part of 170 acres. What is the difference between him and me? The only difference is that the magalomaniacs that run this place have it their head that my 170 acres is important for some reason.

    Fine, if it is that important, then show me the money. It’s like Anne Mackin said in her article last year, “Don’t zone the scenery, buy it.”

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Ray – if your land is taxed by use, and it’s similiar in concept to the land-use rate in Spotsy – it has to be quite small in comparison to other properties of that size that are not classified as “land-use” I would think.

    Since you are restricted in developing it… I’d suspect that .. that also is reflected in it’s appraised value.

    You also would would be paid for placing some or all of it in a conservation easement.

    If your land was not in “land-use” then your tax bill would be quite a bit higher.

    Your elected officials and I emphasize the word “elected” have decided that the majority of the folks who have elected them do NOT want … land developed more than one house per 50 acres except in designated service districts.

    Va law actually REQUIRES local jurisdicition elected bodies to consider ALL proposals from landowners who want to develop their property beyond it’s designated use – which they are – by Virginia Law required to designate.

    Service districts can be expanded or created per proposals.

    I think what your view is – is that you have land-owner rights that exist (or should exist) beyond what your local officials say.

    But I don’t think even you would want a county where everyone can do anything they want with property that they own.

    You just want your own situation to be less restricted per your own wants.

    I still think – the issue is infrastructure.

    If you and others could develop your property so that it would not impact roads, schools, water supply, etc then there would be no need for restrictions.

    It can be rationalized that allowing the development of one property won’t materially affect the existing infrastructure but if all landowners were given the same right that you want then it’s clear that collectively there WOULD be degradation of the infrastructure.

    It is your view that somehow the cost to mitigate those impacts belongs to others – newcomers, existing residents, future residents.

    My view is that without specifics – the end result will be degradation of the infrastructure – without a plan to keep it from degrading in the first place.

    This is the same argument that TMT makes.

    Until we have, embodied in law, specifics with regard to preservation of infrastructure as development proceeds then we’re going to see inequitable approaches to land development – namely restrictions on land development.

    And the reality is…that many of these inequitable approaches are perfectly legal if they are approved by elected officials .. with the remedy being – to vote them out if those policies are not agreed to by a majority of voters.

    The reality is that Adequate Public Facilities even without the explicit law is.. in fact, being implemented via other methods.

  12. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Larry, the county tells me according to their own figures that farms pay 3X what they cost. I haven’t seen the figures, and I’m not sure I would believe them if I did. They say, that is why they need to preserve the farms, because they make so much money off of them.

    I say, if you want to save the farms, then why are you ripping them off to support the development you don’t want. Their argument makes no sense.

    I don’t know of anybody with land of any size that doesn’t do whatever it takes to be in land use. There is considerable fraud involved, so I hear. Comparing it to something else is meaningless.

    The real tax is that I can’t live my life as I please, here. My neighbor building his house apparently can.

    No, the restrictions are not reflected in the appraised value. It is appraised at full value, and then the costs are waived in favor of land use. If land use ends, they back charge me at the full rate for five years, even though I never had the benefit of the use for those five years.

    No, it is not certain that my tax bill would be higher if it was not in land use. A california tax accountantan studied Fauquier as a case study and concluded that land owners in general pay higher taxes because of land use, as well as many farms. It depends on how many structures and what infrastructure your farm has. Wineries and Dairies get hit hard.

    No, I would lose money by placing it in a conservation easement. I do not qualify for the counties purchase program at this time. I make too much money and the farm too little. I could give away an easement and take the tax credit, but I don’t earn enough to take the tax credit in the allotted time. I can sell the tax credits at a discount to someone who has more income than I. Under that scenario I give up the value of the land or discount it, and then I give up more value by selling the credits. It is a fools game.

    Selling the credits or the easements is a capital gains event, and it reduces your basis in the property. The property may not actually sell for less money, in which case you will pay capital gains again, against the lower basis. 30% net tax is a fools game.

    I’m better off to not use the easemnent. When the place is sold to someone really wealthy, he can use it and get a bigger break. It is a sales incentive, consequently the ability to place an easement is more valuable than placing it.

    These are little details the easement mongers fail to advertise.

    My elected officials have accepted the idea accepted by the majority of folks that stealing is OK. That treating a guy with a large lot different from the guy next door with a small lot is OK. If those people don’t want land developed at more than one hose per fifty acres, then why do so many of them live on one acre? If that is what they want, there is an already legal and accepted method to get what they want. They can buy it.

    The fact that my elected official is unethical and pandering to mob rule in favor of protecting the legitimate ineterests of a numerical minority is my problem, but it isn’t my fault.

    The actual fact is that even if that isn’t what the people who elected him want, that is what he wants. He has told me to my face he would like to see me replaced with someone wealthy. I don’t think that is a legitimate government interest, elected or not.

    I’m not asking to develop it beyond its designated use. I’d actully like less. All I’m asking is that I not have additional requirements placed on me that my neighbor, currently building doesn’t have, merely because of what is left after I build.

    Virginia Law may require them to consider it. But I and others, so I understand, have been told, don’t bother to ask. In point of fact, the fees and cost required are so High I couldn’t afford to anyway.

    No, I’m claiming nothing beyond what I have been told by officials. In fact I have them in writing, but the current administration refuses the information I have.

    I have land, I have building rights, I can’t use them. My neighbor has land, has a building right, he is using it. The sole difference is the size of the remaining parcel.

    He is not required to make any commitment, proffer, payments, or further promises with regard to the land he builds on. He can build a house on it today, and next year come back and request a business license for that site. He might not get it, but he can ask. He is not reauired to make any commitment, proffer, payment or further promises for any other property he may own.

    I see no reason why I should be treate any different from him, and that is the only thing I ask.

    This is not an infrastructure issue. It is a by right development in both cases. Neither of us have water supply, the roads here are little used. You would have to go at least ten miles from ere any time of day or night to encounter congestion. The roads wouldn’t even be here except they were build on land already provided by the farm. I have no children, and never have. Between that and the 300% the county claims I’m paying, I think I’ve paid more than enough. My tenant might have children, but he will be a Fauquier resident already, most likely. Net increase in infrastructure required – none.

    This has nothing whatsoever to do with infrastructure, at least not in this case. Besides which, as a by right development that should already have been considered. The county is making no claims on my neighbor, and all I want is the same.

    I agree with what you say about incrementalism. I can’t see that everyone before me is entitled to their incrementalism and I’m not. They congest my raos as much as I congest theirs. Seems fair to me.

    This has nothing to do with infrastructure.

    There is only one issue here. The current administration wishes to restrict the property in such a way that the rules are no longer subject to vote. So that no vote by any number of voters can ever overturn their decision.

    Unlike my neighbor who is allowed to build with no further concessions on the part of any of his property, I am not allowed to build unless I grant this permanent concession. It won’t matter whether we ever achieve a fair way of paying for infrastructure or not, whoever owns this place will never be able to participate in the wealth that growth generates for everyone else.

    You are right it may be inequitable and legal. I think it is not only inequitasble, its unethical, un-american, and it is stealing, but it is still legal.

    Slavery was legal too, but that didn’t make it right. Call me an abolitionist with respect to land inequity. I’m not a property rights fanatic, all I want is to use the rights I have, and which the county agress I have.

    Can’t do it. Not allowed. Not unless I agree to extortion that my neighbor didn’t have to agree to. Extortion specifically designed to prevent exactly the kind of democratic action you propose.

    I suppose my supervisor means well. But he is worse than Bloody Nicholas the Tsar. Like Nicholas he has not the imagination to understand the harm he is doing to his people in order to preserve the old ways. There is a river of blood, sweat, tears, and cash flowing out here simply because he and his henchmen want something they don’t not own and are not willing to bargain in good faith for.

    You can join him in rationalizing this any way you want. It is still wrong. It is wrong, wrong, wrong.

    I’m here every day, and I know what it means. There are things here I’d like to preserve and protect, but I can’t. I’ve seen what it means to old people living in poverty surrounded by land that’s of no use to them.

    This has nothing to do with APF. This is sheer, single-minded, open space, conservation dogma being deployed by a handful of powerful people who could care less about anyone else but themselves. Who have forgotten that they are governing people, not just land. People who offer nothing and take much.

    Just because it legal.

    It makes me want to throw up. And I’m a conservationist. I just don’t happen to believe that the ends justifies the means, no matter how base, cruel, or ignoble. As you say “other methods”.

    And not only does he want to use these means, he wants the result to last forever. He specifically wants the voters, the democratic process, and the body politic out of it. Frankly, I don’t think he or the rest of the government put together are smart enough to know what’s best for the farm tomorrow, let alone in a hundred years.

    Apparently, anyone who has an opinion has one that counts more than mine, but I’m the one carrying the load. Recently one of my wife’s friends remarked how good the place was getting to look. And it is, slowly, no thanks to my supervisor, the county, or anyone who claims they are in favor of saving “our” open spaces or “our” agricultural heritage or whatever tripe they want to trot out. I know my wife’s friend has less money than we do, othewise I’d have said, thanks, glad you enjoyed the show, send a check.

    You can have your infrastructure arguments, your inequitable approaches to development, your APF, your specifics, your other methods.

    But when the bottom line is still wrong, cynically achieved, byzantine, unethical, and unfair, don’t plan on getting either respect or accolades from me.

    I’ll reserve that for my neighbor down the street, working like a mule on his house, and doing the job finestkind, as they say in New England. Using real materials and doing it the old traditional way. I’ll probably help him and maybe have a beer. I’m happy for him, and I hope he enjoys it.

    Maybe someday he’ll be able to return the favor.

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “It is appraised at full value”

    Questions: What is FULL value?

    If the land-use tax is based on it’s current use.. then what “use” is the one that requires full taxation and loss of the “land use” status?

    why would they have a much higher appraisal level if the land will NEVER be able to be developed?

    re: elections – right/wrong/fair/equity

    they’re not connected necessarily.

    If the public thinks it’s elected officials are not doing a good job with growth (regardless of specifics)…they can …and sometimes are voted out.

    The Reverse works also. If a county has a LOT of landowners who feel that their rights are being abridged – the solutions is to change the elected officials.

    Hearings are also opportunities to make public statements about the issues – fairness and equity – and to educate the wider public as to why current policies should be changed – to build support for change – even if it has to be done via elections….

    I know it works. Two examples:

    1. – Local supervisors were summarily thrown out of office at the last election for their irresponsible actions (in the minds of the public) with respect to growth.

    2. – The new board attempted to put severe restrictions on Family Subdivisions – and the resulting furor resulted in the issue being elevated so that all voters could see the unfairness of what was being proposed and it went down to defeat.

    Even newcomers concerned about growth had to admit that such restrictions were wrongheaded and hurt ordinary people whose only way of obtaining affordable housing was being taken away.

    So.. my advice.. look into the Family Subdivison Ordinance. 🙂

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Ray – I simply don’t believe that officials would restrict landowner rights just so they can maintain the “viewscape”.

    Ultimately – it’s all about what the county would look like if it grew the same way that it’s neighboring counties grew – and your elected officials have decided that most folks who live in your county do NOT want it to look like neighboring counties.

    And the difference – has a LOT to do with infrastructure – in terms of where it is and isn’t.. what it looks like and who pays for it and how it gets paid for.

    There is hardly any jurisdicition that can demonstrate that growth “benefits” communities per se and especially so with counties that basically are population repositiories for folks who have jobs in other jursidictions because those counties get all the headaches of growth and none of the benefits of the jobs.

    I fundamentally believe that landowners “rights” are subject to their neighbors “rights” and do not take precedence and the way that such issues are resolved is through elections.

    Ownership of land does not grant unfettered us of that land and I suspect that almost no one would agree that it should. Almost everyone will want restrictions – and so it becomes a community issue – again – resolved by voting.

  15. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Ownership of land does not grant unfettered use of that land, and I never said it did. But the fact that new neighbors now have land ownership does not grant unfettered fetteration of land they don’t own, either. That is just crazy thinking.

    And, to the extent that land use was already fettered by, for example, a stated limit to the number of development rights, how can you then claim that a proposed use within the limits of that prior fetteration is unfettered use? That is totally irrational.


    But here is where you are going in a circle. You believe the landowner’s rights are subject to their neighbors’ rights. Doesn’t that cut both ways? Aren’t the new neighbor’s rights also subject to the landowners (previous) rights? Didn’t the neighbors living on small lots already use their development rights? Aren’t they using them and enjoying them and gaining appreciation from them? Isn’t it the landowner that has lost his view while the homeowners enjoy the one he provides? Aren’t they the ones who first imposed growth on him?

    The neighbors don’t need their rights protected: they’ve already got them. The landowner needs his rights protected, because all he’s got is a piece of paper (Three in my case). Promises that aren’t worth the word and honor of the elected officials that made them. If anything it is the neighbors rights that have taken precedence over the landowners. And they are asserting new ones that could never have existed previously as well.

    No dice on that argument. It is entirely circular.

    You want to eliminate development rights? Fine, eliminate the development rights of the new neighbors along with the landowners, and send the neighbors back where they came from. Then see who hollers the loudest and who talks about precedence.

    Oh, you can’t really do that, now they have a vested interest in bricks and mortar. Yeah well, before they came I had a vested interest in honor and integrity, in promises made and kept. They have a vested interest in THEIR bricks and mortar. They have no vested interest in mine. But if my development rights are fungible, so are theirs. They outnumber me, but their rights don’t outnumber mine.


    I can understand why you are incredulous. It took me fifteen years to really understand. Trust me, this is all true.

    Your question is a valid one. What IS the land use that the full taxation is based on? Here is the answer: NO USE.

    I pay full tax if I don’t farm it, and I’m still prohibited from any other use. I would pay full tax for the privilege of sitting here and watching it revert to jungle. If I do use the land for farming, I get a lower tax rate on the farmland, but my total tax paid is still higher than residences pay. I pay the same tax on the value of my residence and two acres as anybody else with a similar home on two acres. But, they can sell their home and two acres at will, and I cannot. In addition to my residential tax, I pay tax on the farmland, fees to enroll in the program, and tax on farm structures and vehicles, farm sales and employment taxes. I pay the same tax on farm structures as any similar structure, even if that structure would make more money if it were not on the farm.

    In exchange for my farming activities the county makes a net tax expenditure of about $5000. In other words, I can afford to farm it so long as my operating losses don’t exceed $5000. Otherwise, I’m better off to do nothing and pay the tax, and better off still if I just sell the farm. Not surprisingly, the average farm loses around $2000.

    The land is assessed at full value. I’m not sure how that is determined, but it is a lot of money, far more than the farm can ever be expected to pay taxes on. It has to do with what other properties of similar size have sold for, same as other real estate. There is a real but small market for these properties among people who are willing to pay just to have the land. But, it can take years to dispose of a multimillion-dollar property.

    There are a lot of people who are affluent, but not so many that actually have real money, as I learned when I was raising venture capital. Money doesn’t sit around: people have to put it somewhere to work, and then they don’t have it to spend. People who have that kind of money are too smart to put it in a highly restricted farm property that won’t make money.

    Beyond them, there is another, 10X, class. These are the people that have so much, that the farm losses are insignificant. They can even afford to deliberately lose more money on the farm, putting chandeliers in the horse barn and such, because otherwise the feds will take it anyway. These are places with a staff of fifty to run a hundred acre farm, including a couple of accountants and lawyers, maybe a publicist, plus the grooms, the muckboys, groundskeepers, wait staff, the hounds man, and the personal shopper and assistant. They can afford nearly anything they desire, but they are not stupid.

    The land is worth much more in aggregate, to more people and a larger market of them, when it is offered in sizes that real people can actually afford. If the land was less restricted or unrestricted, those who are willing to own large properties at a loss would have to compete with more people and they would have to pay a higher price to get what they want. They support restrictions because they are not stupid.

    As a result, land restrictions are a direct subsidy to the few really wealthy buyers that exist. As the comment my supervisor revealed, that is the true reason for land restrictions, so the wealthy residents he prefers to me can buy more for less. Land restrictions increase the profit of developers, and they are a secondary subsidy to those that already own ordinary houses. But they are a killer to those that want a new home, and those that own land. The newcomers are not voters yet, and the landowners that wish to develop are few in number compared to the population. They are on the political outside or in the small minority.

    After the land is assessed a full value, whatever market it is in, there is another process under which some committee assesses various lands, topography, soil types, water availability, and agricultural prices and then determine how much the land can theoretically earn based on that use. Typically it is around $400 per acre, although I have never earned that much.

    The Fauquier agriculture agent has said that a soybean farmer here might make $75 per acre, before equipment and labor costs. I do better than that with hay, and it is a better cash crop and requires less expensive equipment, so I don’t grow soybeans, or corn. I’m really only suitable for pasture land, and no one else around her grows soybeans either, which pretty much suggests its a bad idea.

    However, if I did, I might eventually qualify for crop subsidies. Now you are talking real money. The ten largest farms in the county get around $80,000 a year in subsidies each, and the 20 largest get almost all the subsidies that are paid. I’m an average size, not large, but bigger than many. I could go that route, but it is not easy. Again, 5-year history is a prerequisite to join the club, and you still may never get a tee time.

    I could do cattle or horses, but I’d need water supplies and fences to the tune of 100k or so, plus barns for the horses. (more taxes) Then I’d have to deal with the horse boarders, and the insurance company. This is actually doable, but I’d have to give up my other income and work full time for a lot less money. Retirement job, maybe. With the responsibility for animals, you need a full time sitter. All you need is for someone to hit one of your escaped cows with their car, and they will own the farm.

    So, what happens is that I get taxed on 2 acres and my house just as if it was a lot I could sell, same as anybody else (although I can’t actually sell it of course). The rest of it is assessed at somewhere between $3000 and $10,000 per acre depending on where you are and a handful of other large lot sales. Call it $5000 per acre, and my tax on the vacant land only, is $6700, plus another $3000 or so for the house.

    But the tax on the vacant land is deferred not eliminated, provided that I farm and can prove that I do so, and all I have to actually pay is $587 dollars on the vacant land, based on farm use, plus the $3000 or so I would pay if I was anyplace else. So I pay the regular tax, plus a 17% surcharge for the vacant land, only so long as I farm it. Plus another $300 filing fee to remain in the program. Plus tax on the barns and sheds. So it is really a 40% surcharge over and above my residential taxes just for the privilege of busting my butt and making very little money farming.

    But it is still $5000 less than the tax on the fair market value of a residence with a 170 acre back yard.

    For most people, the way it works out in practice is that the farm can afford to lose around $5000 a year and still come out ahead over where you would be if you just paid the taxes. In order to have that privilege, you must show a nominal farm income, not profit, of $1000 per year.

    I do a lot better than that, but it’s the first thousand that is hard. In my case it means three tractors, four trucks, two mowers, two balers, haywagons, rakes, assorted other equipment, sheds to keep them in, and all the tools and skills to keep them working. Call it $200,000 dollars, and I’m using antique equipment. Real equipment costs a lot more.

    Its the first thousand dolars thats hard because you have to also bring in enough to amortize that $200k. After that is is just time, fuel, and labor.

    All that premium ($1200 or so in addition to residential tax) is pure profit to the county: no additional services are required or supplied for that money. As I said, the county claims the premium across all farmers is 300% of what they cost. Some farms have much better barns etc. Dairies and wineries really get hammered, because of their infrastructure.

    As soon as I gross $1000 dollars, the smart thing to do is stop work, before you break something. Take the money and run. That is what many people do, and I’m sure there is considerable funny business on transactions regarding the required farm income vouchers. It is basically a fraud, in that case.

    It’s the first $1000 that’s hard though, and I find that once I’ve invested in equipment, labor and fuel, that I might as well keep going and get what I can. The operating profit is small, but at least it is something and it pays the help, provides a job. I play fair and try to improve a little each year. No cheating on the income or expenses, and I send in the sales taxes required, though I’m sure many don’t. My trucks are licensed, inspected and insured.

    But, operating profit doesn’t include the value of renting the land. If you count that, then there is no profit and never will be. Not at these land prices.

    If I stop farming, then the deferral is reversed for five years retroactively and I would owe $33,000 for the privilege of deciding to do nothing (or something else) in the future, even though I actually farmed during that period for which the deferral is revoked.

    That would more than undo all the operating profit I ever had, AND the county wants to increase it to ten years of rollback. The punishment will continue until morale improves. We’ll make it so expensive to stop, that they HAVE to farm.

    One retiring farmer said that it’s a hard business to get into, a hard one to stay in, and a hard one to get out of. Again, the rollback it is all pure profit to the county because I’m already paying the same tax as anyone else, and they haven’t paid for any more services during the rollback period. If I stop farming in order to develop, then they are going to want proffers for services and infrastructure ( that they don’t really provide and don’t have), plus the rollback.

    In order to make my small operating profit, the farm drops another $10 to $25 k a year on the local economy, in addition to our living expenses. The usual economic multiplier is 3X so that’s another $75k benefit to the county.

    Because of the “Tax break” which actually costs me $1200 extra, and the rollback, you really must farm and keep farming. There isn’t any way out, so that $10-25k a year might as well be a farm user fee or tax. Like a user fee, you do get stuff for the money, but you have little choice as to whether to spend it or not, or what to spend it on.

    OR, I can grant an easement, stop farming, and get the same land use taxation. All my costs and labor of farming go away, and I can do something else, maybe. Probably the easement would prevent that, too unless I go somewhere else to do it. I could convert the barn to a boat shed and turn out a few boats every year for more money. But that is manufacturing, not farming, and I’m not zoned for it.

    There is another problem. The easement is forever, but the county does not guarantee land use taxation is forever. It’s an asymmetric deal that you would have to be an utter fool to accept. When the tax on regular land gets high enough, those voters are going to insist that those wealthy landowners stop getting that huge land use tax subsidy, even though it isn’t. If there is a real revenue crunch the county is going to start looking around. Not only that, but most people, including some farmers do pay higher taxes because of the land use deferment. There is legitimate room to gripe.

    Now, economic conditions have changed over the last thirty years. Land values have doubled and doubled again, but the money from using the land is still only $400 per acre, and the premium I ppay over my residential tax is still only $1200. Every year the land use subsidy gets bigger and bigger and the supposed “cost” to other taxpayers gets higher and higher and they get more and more restive. Remember, it is still vacant land we are talking about that really infers no higher costs once the residential portion is payed. The real costs to those taxpayers is the cost of their own services, but now they think they can spread their costs across more residential land.

    Want to bet your land easement that land use taxation will continue into eternity? I wouldn’t. Especially when taxation can be changed at the polls, but the easement cannot. And the easement is like the land. The longer you wait the more it is worth, so why rush?

    But it gets back to your question, what land use is the full tax based on? If those residents now expect to cut the rate for their services by spreading it out over more vacant residential priced land, it won’t be farmland long.

    If I get hurt or ill and can’t farm, tough luck, go try and find someone who will work it for you. Otherwise, that will be $33,000 dollars, please. Payable immediately. If you get well and go back into the program, there is an entry fee and a five-year waiting period. And all of that is free money to the county because you still have to pay the same tax as anybody else, as well as the farm related taxes and expenses.

    That is the real tax story. So, regular tax same as anyone else, plus 40% premium, plus a major contribution to the local economy, not required by others. No possibility of competing in a free market, 1500 hours of low paid work, And no benefits from the county going the other way. Good deal, huh?

    Well OK try this. The tax deferment is really the money that the county “pays you” for the services you provide by farming: for having your land restricted to farming. If you accept that argument, it is a poison pill, because it implies that other restrictions and services should be paid for, too.

    This is the only conclusion you can draw from the introduction of PDR’s and TDR’s. That much is settled.

    Now it’s like the question, “When did you stop beating your wife?” only now its more like “What date will you choose to stop cheating our neighbors: before you rob them or after?”

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “But here is where you are going in a circle. You believe the landowner’s rights are subject to their neighbors’ rights. Doesn’t that cut both ways? Aren’t the new neighbor’s rights also subject to the landowners (previous) rights?”


    It boils down to a majority vote unless your “right” is explicit in the Virginia Constitution.

    Restrictions on land can and do change and evolve according to what is determined to be in the public interest from the view of legislators, local elected officials, and .. yes.. neighbors.

    Rights also do not remain static and unchangeable. New laws happen.

    I think we’re confusing fairness with “rights” or to put it another way – you believe if something is not fair (in your own mind) then your “rights” have been taken away.

    And that would be true but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s legal and, at least, in part, determined – again – by what is deemed to be in the public interest.

    Everytime a new ordinance that affects what you can do on your land is passed – your previous “rights” have been abridged.

    For instance, a noise ordinance is passed .. and your logic is that because you had a previous right to make unrestricted noise – even if it seriously affected your neighbors that a new ordinance to restrict you is wrong and/or illegal.

    That’s simply not true.

    If enough of your neighbors think that in the process of exercising your rights – you end up infringing on their rights – they can and will have new laws passed.

    This happens all the time.

    The State and your local officials, can, at any time, in fact, come in and acquire any or all of your property paying you only for what it is deemed to be worth NOW.. completely independent of it’s potential future worth.

    Again.. what is thought to be fair – is subjective … and varies according to individual views – and what is legal “right” are two entirely different things.

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “You want to eliminate development rights? Fine, eliminate the development rights of the new neighbors along with the landowners”

    The guy who buys a 1/4 lot or a townhouse has virtually NO development rights because they’ve bought a “developed” property. They have no property rights – at least the kind that you are alluding to – right?

    They can’t subdivide their property. They cannot build convert their townhouse into apartments or a high rise. They can’t operate a pizza shop out of their living room. They cannot add a room, etc, etc,

    I think your beef is with respect to owners of UNDEVELOPED properties where there is disparity between what level of development can (or cannot) occur with respect to ALL undeveloped properties no matter whether they exist in counties, districts, jurisdicitons, etc.

    What I’m asserting is that the State and Localities not only have the legal right to designate acceptable uses for property but they can change those uses.

    Would you agree that the state has this legal right – regardless of whether you think it is “fair” or not.

    Aren’t you essentially arguing that the law itself is “not fair”?

  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “The land is assessed at full value. I’m not sure how that is determined, but it is a lot of money, far more than the farm can ever be expected to pay taxes on.”

    I think your county is vulnerable on this.

    If your land is not developable then on what basis is the appraisal?

    I successfully argued to the tax guys in my property that their appraisal of land that I owned that was in the 100 year flood plain could not be built on and therefore it’s value was not the same as a buildable lot.

    Ditto with the remainder of the lot. They only value one acre with improvements – the rest is assessed at a much lower value even without a land-use designation.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Let’s go 180 degrees on the growth/land-owner rights condundrum.

    Say the BOS REZONES a whole bunch of land from Ag/rural to high-density residential/commericial – for any owner of undevleoped land.

    Let’s stipulate further than the BOS states up-front that no proffers will be required because doing so would unfairly put some land-owners at a disadvantage – compared to professional (wealthy) developers.

    So – a totally level playing field for all.

    Let’s call this mythical county Alterfacquier. ( I thought Ray would like this “touch” – 🙂 )

    What would be the outcome in terms of infrastructure – schools and roads?

    It’s the fear that deveolopment will occur without at least MAINTAINING the existing infrastructure levels and that more than likely school and roads would suffer very serious degradation.

    Citizens would then fear destruction and degradation of their community and in all likelihood… throw every one of the BOS out of office at the next election at which point… they would do whatever they could to put restrictions on whoever and however…without regard to what would be fair or equitable – because the goal would be to undo as much damage as they could.. wherever such opportunities existed.

    This is what I believe drives the restrictions ….. and until the issue about how to maintain infrastructure and levels of service are addressed – widespread support of restrictions will continue.

    And note – I’m not advocating one direction or the other as right or fair or even legal but rather the WHY behind restricting property rights.

    If we understand the WHY then opportunity exists for both landowners and those that fear growth to AGREE on how to go forward.

  20. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Yes laws can and do change. But when Oregon changed their rules back, then the shoe was on the other foot and the envirionmentalists screamed bloody murder that their rights were being abrogated.

    Essentially Oregon went to the polls twice and agreed that property owners should be compensated when property rights are removed. Albemarle is proposing a plan where som compensation can be obtained after development rights are removed. Loudoun has flipped from no growth to growth to half no growth.

    It seem to me, that we are slowly moving toward recognizing intangible property as real property, same as we do intellectual property.

    If that is your position, then you can’t very well complain when the board plants a subdivision next to you, can you? The board will have deemed that it is in the best public interest, and our complaints against growth are over.

    You cannot argue for fewer rights for someone else and not expect that will result in fewer rights for youself. Watch what happens over that new power line to Aldie, and see who is claimng rights.

    The guy with a quarter acre lot or one acre lot absolutely as development rights: the ones he already used, theones he is enjoying by living on, the ones that are appreciateng in value while his neighbor is cut out of the market. He can buy or sell his one acre lot on the open market with no interference. If he has a hundred one acre lots he can buy or sell any or all of them at will. There is little or no likliehood that wil change, because we agree as to what it is he has purchased.

    A landowner may buy land with a hundred devlopment rights, and pay a comensurate price today, and see those rights disappear tomorrow. Wouldn’t you agree that the market trades thos properties with some expectation as to what it is they are buying?

    But by your argument we could, for example, say to the one acre lot owners (with enoug votes behind you) OK, you still own your lot, but you no longer have the right to sell it. We, the BOS have decided that more open space is in the public interest, and henceforth you will only be able to sell your property if two of you band togeter and sell two adjacent lots, tearing down or vacating one of the homes.

    Based on your argument would you think such an ordinace would be fair, or legal? You haven’t taken anything, you only require that some things no longer be used. The owners are still allowed to sell into a certain market.

    It’s not a perfect analogy, but you think tht would be OK? The guy with the 100 acres an a hundred development rights thought he bought certain things, but the rules changed. The one acre homeowner thought they bought certain things, but the rules changed.

    And you really think that would be all right? To me, that is a scary thought.

    I have in my possession three separate letters from the county, obtained over a period of years. The letters describe the county’s position on what my development rights are, based ont the particulars of my property and its history in the records office. It is the county that determines land use issues (I have a letter from the governor that says so.)

    Why should my land rights exist only in the VA constitution, if the county controls them? And once the county has written them down, then why can’t I expect to take the county at its word, and make plans accordingly? Why should they be any more fungible that your right to sell your house?

    Doesn’t our complaint against growth boil down to complaining that the BOS has allowed change which we think (evidently not them, or the people who elected them) conflicts with our previous “right” to a certain quality of life? If you think you have that right, where are the letters describing what they are and why they are not fungible?

    I don’t think this argument is defensible, and worse it is self defeating. The only way to protect your rights against growth is to also protect similar rights that support growth.

    Go look at the arguments against that proposed power line, and then explain to me how they are justified, based on your argument.

    It is written into the constitution that if you take property for public use, you must pay for it. It is written into law that property is a bundle of sticks. If you take one of my sticks then you have taken all of that stick, and you should pay me for it.

    I’m asserting that local governments are breaking the law, and that no one has successfully called them on the carpet for it, yet. There is the case of the guy that bought beach lots in SC, zoned for beach houses. After he bought the lots, the county said, no more beach houses. He sued, in the Supreme Court, and won.

    As far as I’m concerned, that puts an end to the argument. Building rights are actual property, part of the bundle of sticks. The county has the right to take them, but just compensation must be paid. End of story.

    What we have now, is a situation where local governments are to use your words “using other means” to avoid the spirit and intent of law provided by the Supreme Court.

    So far, they are able to do that because it is nearly impossible to get standing to sue. In other words they are deliberately and knowingly being unfair, unethical, and probably illegal, simply because they can get away with it.

    In Oregon peopel simply got fed up with it and said, no, you can’t do that anymore, and youmust give thos you have already cheated an opportunity for an appeal with teeth in it. Likewise, there is another bill in Congress designed to make it easier to get standing to sue and to clarify what is property and what is fungible.

    If that rule change comes to pass, then based on your argument, I expect you would have no complaint.

    In Oregon Landowners once had unfettered property rights. For the last thirty years environmental groups pretty much had unefttered rights to interfer with the previous rights. Now the citizens have ordered the state, twice mind you, to reinforce the idea of what property is and when compensation can/must be made.

    So three different rules, over time. In Virginia every county has it s own rules and enforces them to varying degrees. So different rules over different spaces.

    Bertand Russell once commented that there were several hundred relaigions in the world, each claiming to be the one true faith. he observed that “At most, one of them is correct.”

    The Supreme court has said don’t steal, The constitution says don’t steal, and the ten commandments say don’t steal.

    What I hear you saying is that it is OK to steal at the county level depending on how you define stealing and how many votes you have.

    Nobody who thinks that way is getting my vote. But if they do get elected and they do something you don’t like, I don’t want to hear about it, after all, they were elected.

  21. Ray Hyde Avatar

    The basis of appraisal is the same as for other properties. That is, what similar properties have sold for. As I explained, such large properties seldom sell, and when they do it is frequently headline news, locally. They sell into an entirely different market and to different clientele than the average home, and there is much less to find in terms of comparable sales. Consequently it is more likely there will be errors, that the errors will be on the down side, and that the owners are powerful political figures, who can effectively protect their interests.

    It has been publicly stated in a number of publications that one reason Fauquier has been successful with strong anti-growth rules is that it is because it is home to dozens of the wealthiest people inthe state. Anti-growth laws are frequently attacked as elitist for a reason. Exclusive zoning is illegal for a reason, but that doesn’t mean that officials of a certain mind set are not willing to skate on the edge, especially if it helps their biggest donors.

    So yes, the property is appraised with building rights, even if there are other reasons you can’t use them. (Steep slope, bad soil wetlands, outrageous proffers, insufficient open space contribution, and rollback bills). I agree the county is vulnerable if they are appraising me for more than it is worth. The only difference I would add is that If the county caused it to be worth less, then not only should it be assessed at less, but I should be compensated for the amount of the loss. The county must have caused that loss for a reason that benefits the county.

    The county apparently considers the activity of farming as being a public benefit, so they will offer a lower appraisal provided you engage in farming and keep being engaged in farming.

    At one time the property had a hundred bulding rights which were not being used, (and were in little danger of being used, there being no market). The property was engaged in farming and taxed on the basis of a hundred lots, (even if the lots had little value.)

    Subsequently, the building rights were vastly reduced though downzoning and consequently the building rights were much more valuable. In addition a market for them was developing, and that drove the values higher still.

    In such a market you would be nuts to farm and farms disappeared at a rapid clip. The county found that in order to repair some of the damage it caused by screwing with the market, that it needed to subsidize farming through lower tax rates. That didn’t really work either, so the county resorted to “other methods” to prohibit the use of the remaining development rights, and simply hiding this fact under the cloak of lower farm taxes.

    It isn’t clear that either the owners or the county is better off.


    I have not been successful with either of you arguments. Half of my Fairfax lot is underwater but it’s appraised as one lot, regardless.

    You think that if I built a huge lake on the farm, it would be appraised at less? I could put it all underwater and pay nothing, because it isn’t buildable? Typically ponds add value, even though they can’t be built on. Looks to me like you pulled a fast one.

    But doesn’t your argument say exactly what I have been saying? Say You have land and there is no wetland definition. It is worth one price, and You can still use the wetland, if ou can find a way. Now, we have a new wetland definition and you can no longer use the wetland for anything, and you have argued successfully that now your property is worth less, and you should be taxed less (even if you weren’t using the wetland). I imagine if the rules change and they redefine the wetland larger, then you could go back and argue successfully that your property is now worth even less still.

    I would argue that Fairfax is right. I had one lot, it had one development right, it had some unbuildable wetland. But there was land that was still buildable, and I used that to build the home.

    When I bought the land, I knew that some of it was under water and in the flood plain, and I knew it had one building right. Apraisals are based on sales, and sales are based on what you get. I knew what I was getting, and I can’t see that I now have any right to turn around and claim the land should be appraised at less than fair market (what I paid for it) because there is water on it. It was there when I bought it.

    If I was your neighbor I’d complain to the assesor that such a tactic is effectively raising my taxes: you shouldn’t be allowed to change the basis of the valuation of your property retroactively, (and neither should the county).

    But, after I built my home, new setback rules for streambeds were announced. Had I not already built, those new setbacks would have eliminated my building right.
    (The setbacks are screwy because they are figured in feet, and don’t count elevation, or runoff. My home is built on solid stone. There is exactly the same runoff after construction as before. Because of the elevation there is no safety issue regarding flooding.) In this particular case, the reasons we use setbacks wouldn’t really or logically apply, but because a new rule is a new rule, put there by the voters who know best about everything that is a public benefit, I would have still lost that house, had it not already been built.

    In that case the new wetland rule really would have reduced the value of my property. So here you are, arguing successfully that your wetland reduces the value of your property, property you live on and enjoyed the development of.

    But yet, you would say the county would have had a perfect right to eliminate my house/development right. I’d have no right to complain, let alone get recompense for the things I thought I bought, and then suddenly didn’t have, simply because the rule was publicly supported.

    Maybe I misunderstand. Is your situation such that the wetland really prevents you from developing where you might have otherwise? Or is it simply on part of your lot that you didn’t build on, like mine? Might you have had two lots otherwise?

    This is very strange thinking to me. The reason we protect wetlands is that they provide a public benefit. You clain that because you cannot build on their public benefit that you must be compensated with lower taxes. Why not just give the wetland to the county and pay no taxes?

    Since the public benefit is on your land and you have the only access, shouldn’t you be paying more, and not less?

    Good thinking, I like that.

    Back to the large lots. Large lots with no development rights can sell for as little as $600 an acre(not around here.) Large lots with many development rights sell for millions more. So you can expect that (part) of you assessment, (and the price you will pay to get the land) depends on your development potential. If that development potential is taken away, you will suffer a very real loss in value. You might or might not get a different assessment and lower taxes. But the lower taxes will never offset the actual loss you took.

    In the case of a wetland, there is a defineable and measurable public benefit even if the definition may cange over time. But if Development rights are simply reduced, where is that benefit? You argue that it is in reduced infrastructure costs. OK where is the definition and measurement that is equivalent to the wetland?

    In Fauquier, the county ahs defined that benefit as being worth $2800 per home per year, based on our current budget and current number of homes, and that benefit changes from year to year, based on budgets and assessments.

    So if we take 23 home development rights away from some hapless landowner, then he has saved every individual in the county a dollar a year.

    If he had built the homes and made only 20k in profit per home (10% on 200,000 home), and if he invested the profits at only 5% then losing those homes cost him $23,000 a year,or $0.35 for every citizen in the county every year. Therefore, if the county reimbursed him for his loss, then every citizen would still have a net gain of $0.65 per year, and they would have to feel as if they were stealing $0.35 from our friend.

    But why would they do that if they can get the whole dollar through “other methods”?

    Consider thee identical $500,000 structures. On is on a one acre lot, and the other one is on half of two half acre lots. Both structures are on one acre, but one has an additional bulding right associated with it. The third structure is on a half acre lot. Which one will sell for more money?

    It turns out that the acre lot sells for only a little more than the half acre, but the one with a potential bulding site sells for much more. The value isn’t in the land, it is in the bulding right. If that building right goes away the property is worth less, and you should pay less tax. Say a sinkhole or fault line happens, and the place is suddenly un buildable. You would go get re-appraised and pay less tax. tough luck, could happen to anyone.

    Suppose the county simply takes the building right and says we don’t want you to build, (for any public reason). You would expect to pay less tax, and I think you should be compensated for the loss as well. In this case there is a public reason, and so the tough luck is not equally likely or equally dispersed.

  22. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “The guy with the 100 acres an a hundred development rights thought he bought certain things, but the rules changed. The one acre homeowner thought they bought certain things, but the rules changed.

    And you really think that would be all right? To me, that is a scary thought.”

    No but it is the reality.

    I’m ok with what happened in Oregon. I’m okay with more fair laws for landowners in Virginia.

    I actually think that fairness and equity are at the heart of the disagreements but I think both sides have their own ideas of what is fair.

    People who buy a home – want good schools and roads in terms of quality and level of service.

    If they see growth occuring that results in degradation of things that affect them directly – they’re going to vent their displeasure at election time.

    Ditto for landowners. Loudoun is a good example where elections have swung both ways.

    But it’s a losing proposition in terms of numbers for landowners as population increases the number of folks who merely own one home on a small lot and are experiencing crowded schools and terrible roads and believe that uncontrolled/unmanaged growth is the reason why.

    This is exactly what is driving the entire debate in Va about land-use and transportation.

    Most folks don’t buy the “no growth” approach but they also don’t buy the argument homes can be built without providing adequate infrastructure.

    The wealthy land-owners in Facquier and adjacent Piedmont KNOW that cutting up land parcels WILL result in infrastructure degradation – higher taxes, crowded schools and maxed out roads – under the current Virginia processes for land development.

    From that point on – their goal is to use whatever means available to them to prevent that outcome.

    You disagree with the unfairness of it all – and I agree – but again – I feel that it will continue until we find a better way to grow – one that brings adequate infrastructure online so that existing residents don’t feel that their “rights” to quality of life are being destroyed.

    I know the answer will not be – that for ever “right” taken away from raw land owners that an equivalent “right” will be taken away those living on developed land.

    If your sole interest is to advocate “relief” for the landowners and you are not concerned with the WHY behind those who support restricting your rights – then … good luck.

    I’d say this – if Virginia had Citizen Referenda – like Oregon – you COULD take your case directly to the people and not have to deal with the local BOS .

    So.. why don’t I see the landowners in Richmond lobbying their representatives to give Virginians the right of citizen referenda?

    I’d actually SUPPORT you in that effort! 🙂

  23. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “If they see growth occuring that results in degradation of things that affect them directly – they’re going to vent their displeasure at election time.

    Ditto for landowners. Loudoun is a good example where elections have swung both ways.

    But it’s a losing proposition in terms of numbers for landowners as population increases the number of folks who merely own one home on a small lot and are experiencing crowded schools and terrible roads and believe that uncontrolled/unmanaged growth is the reason why.”

    Exactly. This is the best statement of where we agree. Those people have the right to go to the poles and vent their displeasure, even if I sometimes think their displeasure is invented or hypersensitive. Likewise, those that wish to develop should expect to pay their share. Those that want excessive rezonings should pay more – and that means rezonings in both directions.

    But whoever takes the chair, on either side of the debate has an obligation to see that fair play is fair play and not just mob rule.

    I, too, know the answer will not be – that for ever “right” taken away from raw land owners that an equivalent “right” will be taken away those living on developed land. Of course not. It is ridiculous. How can you take away something that is already have used up? I only make the point to show how ridiculous the argument is, from both sides.

    If you are running out of fish, the answer is to eat less fish, find better ways to grow them, and take better care of the ones you have, not to kill the fisherman. You cannot stock YOUR freezer full of fish, and then sy to those without elctricity or freezers, “Times up, no more fishing, ever”. Some day, your freezer will run out of fish, too.

    The fact that many people believe that denigrating builders and big developers is the way to solve their problems doesn’t make it so. They may not even understand what this tactic does to the underlying landowner, housing prices, and their own taxes.

    Elected leaders are the government for everybody, and they have an obligation to minorities. They have a role to play in education about the real facts.

    But if the elected officials go down the popular and easy road, and it fails; then that isn’t a recipe for continued employment either. Flip flopping governments is the binary way of reaching equity, but it is a hard and expensive means, for both sides. Why not find compromises we can live with instead of taking no hostages, winner take all at the polls?

    I AM concerned with the WHY behind those who support restricting others rights. Frankly, I think one reason is that they have been repetitively handed a bill of goods. Growth does have costs, too much growth definitly leads to bad results. There are also benefits.

    But, particularly here, only one side is ever told. One side owns the newspapers, one side has most of the elected seats, and one side now thinks they can get away with anything, with impunity. The whole county is engaging in self-promoting group think, with no real conversation going on. For example, when I hear multiple public officials saying any home valued at less that $750,000 isn’t paying its share of county costs, and I know the average home is only around $260,000, then obviously something has to be wrong with that statement. Or else, something is totally out whack, our bills aren’t being paid, and we need a really huge tax increase.

    I’d be willing to do something real about the WHY as you call it. But my observation is that no answer will be acceptable to those presently in control.

    If I thought it was about price or proffers, I could live with that. If I thought it was about rate of growth and timing, I could live with that. If I thought it was about real environmental problems, then I’d work for real changes. But when the county has two full time runoff inspectors that inspect ONLY builders and you see farms everywhere with much worse problems, then you have to wonder.

    Here, the only acceptable answer seems to be never, not at any price, non-negotiable. Over fifteen years I have come to the feeling that I live in my home, but the farm is occupied territory – occupied by the county and run for their benefit at my expense. My wife tells me that she can remember her father having toe to toe, nose to nose screaming matches with officials back when this all started, more than thirty years ago.

    I’m perfectly happy to support the efforts of those who wish to preserve our farms, viewscapes, wildlife, and heritage. But they are going to have to find some equitable way to return at least part of the favor and support me too.

    The cash flow for infrastructure MUST include the cash flow for green infrastructure. But that idea is too radical, not on the table. It is barely visible on the horizon. But if those in power think that green infrastructure is free, then we are making the same “free” mistake about green infrastructure that we once made about growth.

    I can’t do it all myself and no landowner can (except, maybe, the super wealthy), especially when the only acceptable criteria is eternity. If we are going to turn over our green infrastructure to them, in the form of tax subsidized private parks, then maybe we need to re-think what a public benefit is.

  24. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m in total sympathy. My views are not based on what I personally think is right or wrong – as much as a pragmatic view of the “why”.

    You have wealthy “landowners” in control in your county.

    Those folks are not dumb and more to the point – they know how to wield power.

    Apparently a majority of them .. have decided that … residential growth is not beneficial and they’ve elected folks to carry out that mandate.

    This is not about what is fair – no more than irresponsible rezones from developer-friendly BOS is fair.

    A more limited change took place in Spotsylvania in 2003 elections – where a pro-growth BOS was delt with by voters and the new BOS has taken some actions that are deemed most unfriendly by landowners.

    What caused voters to out them was the simple proposition that growth had been approved but no provisions for adequate infrastructure.

    The previous BOS claimed that the State did not give them the necessary tools to .. growth so that infrastructure kept up .. so the solution was to vote them out with a “no growth” majority.

    Wrong? Yes. What were the alternatives?
    The landowners who were benefitting from the growth.. were totally mum on the issue… Only AFTER the BOS change did they start complaining about “unfair” rules.

    Do you see my drift?

    Most voters ARE reasonable but if they pushed to the point where they see no alternatives .. they’ll sign on to “bad” change …

    That’s why I say.. everyone has a DOG in this hunt… and especially so.. folks who own land.. and are being adversely affected…

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