Part of eastern Stafford could see less development than it may have otherwise, thanks to the county’s new transfer-of-development rights program.

Tuesday’s approval comes after years of debate, with proposed changes bouncing back and forth between the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission.

Aquia District Supervisor Paul Milde, who led the effort since 2006 to create a TDR program, said he hopes it will allow more land to become part of the Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve.

“TDRs provide the tool we need to preserve land and preserve private property rights,” Milde said at Tuesday’s meeting. “They also mark an advancement in targeting development—both residential and commercial—for those areas that can best absorb the growth.”

The “sending area” is the rural land between Potomac and Aquia creeks, east of the CSX rail line. Essentially, landowners there can voluntarily sever parcels’ development rights (the ability to build), and send them to growth areas that are more suitable for that development. That “receiving area” is the Courthouse Urban Development Area.

George Washington District Supervisor Bob Thomas said, “I would like to see this pilot program be successful so we can possibly utilize it in other areas of the county.”

The pilot program allows up to 688 development rights. There are many stipulations as to what types and size of lots are eligible.

The county won’t see any change in the total number of allowable units that are built, but the units will move to a smaller, more densely developed area.

TDR is a by-right program, meaning there’s no rezoning required. Some residents had criticized that aspect because the change wouldn’t be advertised through public notice.

Before the TDR program goes into effect, county planning staff will finalize the system.

Supervisors passed the program on a 5–2 vote, with Susan Stimpson and Cord Sterling against.

“I don’t think that this is a cost that’s worth it to the taxpayers,” Stimpson said. “I also have concerns about the three groups of landowners, we don’t really know who they are.”

A handful of limited liability corporations own the majority of the lots in the now-defunct Crow’s Nest Harbor subdivision, which Milde hopes to add to the neighboring natural area. But not all those lots are eligible for TDR, according to county maps.

There are some allowable uses for land that has been retired in the sending area, such as agricultural and forestry, with buildings up to 6,000 square feet to support those uses. Campgrounds with support facilities up to 2,000 square feet are also allowed.

The Planning Commission must pass a related amendment to the comprehensive plan.


Also Tuesday night, supervisors put the brakes on extra growth in cluster subdivisions.

The ordinance that was amended last summer added a density bonus for development that went in agricultural zoning districts.

But the county board then expressed concerns about what that meant for growth in Stafford.
Since last June, developers submitted eight applications to the county for cluster plans. One was approved, while the seven others are pending.
Clusters are appealing to developers because of lower costs to build fewer roads and less infrastructure.
If lots used well and septic services, the average lot size was required to be 1.5 acres. But with public utilities, that dropped down to 1 acre.
Clusters in residential zoned districts can still achieve a higher density subject to board approval for a conditional-use permit.
Sterling said the density bonus seemed to serve no other purpose except to keep developments from connecting to water and sewer. That was cause for developer D.R. Horton to file suit regarding its application for the Clift Farm Quarter property in November.
The following public hearing concerned a drastic reduction in fees for cluster plan applications. Fees had been assessed at $1,975 base fee plus $125 per lot and a 2.75 percent technology fee.

Cluster concept plans had previously been reviewed by all county departments, requiring more staff time. The ordinance that was amended last summer changed that review process, so now the plans only have to go before the planning and utility departments. The new fees will be a $250 base fee with $5 per lot and the same technology fee.

The Garrett Cos. recently paid $103,880 for a review of its proposed 793-home cluster subdivision in the Widewater area of North Stafford. Under the new fees, that fee would have been $100,000 less.

Planning Director Jeff Harvey said developers could withdraw their applications, with a refund, and resubmit to take advantage of the lower fees.
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975
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