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Easter Electronic Message From Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio

March 31, 2002


I have been a vocal critic of so-called purchase of development rights from the beginning of their mention at a board of Supervisors meeting almost two years ago. Not PDRs, I called them P R Ds, for Property Rights Deletion.

I have devoted many electronic messages explaining many of the abuses (political payoffs, etc.) of PDRs/PRDs. And just two days ago, I sent specific objections to how they are being used from Transient Occupancy Tax funds and how an entire industry is opposed to it.


I stand as your witness to the fantastic boondoggles that is the legacy of this strange liberal majority on the Board of Supervisors. And this program is a horrible example of how far logic can be stretched by a twisted vision of "land development" that forces an entire population to squeeze into one portion of a land area while forcing these same oppressed people to pay the landed gentry cash to keep them packed in high density areas.

Please apply this particular lack of reason or logic to the policies of the rest of the budget and tax policies of this board of supervisors and you can see how the hundreds of millions of tax dollars are improperly spent. This could be a key to the whole Lo Co budget picture.

Many of the budget items in the Lo Co budget, like the PDRs, is like a fuel to exploding budgets that burden an over-taxed home owner and commercial sector -- in a down-turned economy. PDRs don't make sense, unless you are looking for ways to throw money down a rat hole.

I do not agree with Supervisor Chuck Harris that PDRs help to solve any problems. I think they cause problems and make the current problems worse.

I Ate the Chocolate Bunny.

I work mightily through this Easter holiday as I prepare these remarks for the Easter Monday Loudoun County Board of Supervisors meeting. We will set the tax rate and pass the final budget. I bring to your attention my objections to the PDRs because they are simply the cornerstone of the extremist agenda that has taken hold of this county's elected leadership. And Richmond and Washington must beat some of the burden of this abuse by passing laws that invite this abuse.

I call on our state and federal legislators to reform and restrain Lo Co and let us all resolve to make sure all citizens are informed about this.


1. PDRs may not be enforceable. Buying conservation easements goes far beyond local government's traditional powers to maintain health and safety. Granted, local government powers have, de facto, mushroomed in the past 40 years. But will the courts support this latest expansion, with its unlimited expense potential? Virginia has enabling legislation (the Open Space Land Act [OSLA], VA. Code Para. 10.1-1700 et seq.) which allows public bodies to buy land "in an urban area" for conservation or scenic purposes (para. 28.2-1300), but the court battles have just begun. Virginia Beach was the first city in this state to try such a program, only 7 years ago (1995).

Current Proposed Use of PDRs Might Be Illegal

2. As pointed out by Delegate Richard Black, the Achilles heel in the law, as it relates to Lo Co is that it allows purchases in urban areas. Are the remote, rural areas of Loudoun County what the OSLA law contemplates as "urban?" They certainly are not called that in any County document. Could PDRs be granted 5 miles north of Leesburg under a law designed to help "an urban area"?

3. PDR's are not popular with the voters. As evidence, the Board did switch from a proposed $24 million public vote (bond referendum) on PDRs next November, to putting PDRs on the Transient Occupancy Tax "dedicated source". It seems a board majority was not sure of public support for the whole concept - and a public vote would make the issue unmistakable a year hence, when BoS elections come around again. I don't think I have to tell you: I would have made this an issue.

Lead us not into temptation.

4. PDRs are subject to abuse. Giving landowners big sums of money - the smallest of the 9 PDR payments to date has been $90,000 and three have been over $1 million - could make such a landowner indebted to the board, and vice versa. Lo Co is now into that thicket. Let's get out.

No such thing as a small government program - 20 years later

5. PDRs is certain to become a bigger and bigger expense. Federal "bloc grants" started with small grants to inner cities; now it is a $25 billion bonanza.

Preserving the rural environment" is an open-ended concept - with the open end aimed at the taxpayer's wallet.

6. PDRs substitute political (aesthetic) values for market values. Proponents of PDRs are trying to preserve aesthetic (rural) values. Here's the problem: Once aesthetic values are substituted for market values, the sky is the limit - one could justify the purchase of the whole county on grounds that this "preserves the rural environment" or "promotes tourism."

Downzoning negates PDRs

7. PDRs are unnecessary in the 2/3 of the County destined for re-zoning (or "downzoning"). In these areas, limitations forbid more than one structure on every 20, or every 50, acres. With these limitations, the normal permit-application process should allow for protection of scenic, historic, etc. sites.

No pet projects while basic needs are underfunded

8. The County has higher priorities for spending - its "basic functions" of roads, schools, utilities, and deputies and fire. We are looking at a huge increase in taxes in '03. How can we be thinking about buying development rights when we need classrooms and deputies ?


(NOTE: If the Board of Supervisors insists on keeping PDRs (highly likely), I submit these alternatives below as possible amendments to the program.

Don't hold your breath waiting for the Board to adopt them. But perhaps Richmond could impose it.

1. PDR's should equal only 5% to 10% of existing property value, not 69% (the present rate for first 9 PDR properties).

Why? First, under a PDR program, the County is only purchasing a future development right, not all the rights that go with land ownership. The present owner continues to have the use and enjoyment of the land. It's still his in many respects.

Why should he be paid anything close to the full value of it, when he still has it - to farm, hike, hunt, and do anything on it except build?

2. Disallow PDR's in all areas of the County re-zoned (downzoned) by the Revised General Plan

Why? Because the re-zoning restricts construction, in the northern zone (over half the total county) to 1 house in 20 acres (or, if clustered, 10 structures every 100 acres). In the southern zone, at least one-quarter of the total county, the revised GP allows only 1 house to every 50 acres, or clustered, 1 to 20 acres.

3. Forbid funding of PDR's with TOT funds.

The return on the dollar of easement purchases, compared with any other expenditure (on hotel, golf course, and other destination-site promotions) is extremely low or difficult to measure.

Despite an opinion by the State Attorney General (1999) to the Loudoun County Attorney, using TOT to fund the purchase of conservation easements creates an administrative nightmare. How can anyone prove that Parcel X promotes tourism? If Parcel X is away from any traveled road, or along a creek which is remote from tour buses, has it "promoted tourism?"

4. Forbid granting PDRs to any contributor to an Elected Loudoun County Official

Require the filing of a court document, certified under oath, by all elected officials and PDR recipients, that none have gained political or economic advantage by the transaction. And none are planned in the future.

5. Make PDRs "renegotiable."

As PDRs are designed now, once the property owner has sold his development rights, those rights are extinguished forever. Suppose a few years down the road he has a sudden financial need - "sellers remorse?"

So this is the best I can do, provide you with the many bad things about PDRs as proposed by this liberal majority on the Loudoun Board.

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