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Stafford can preserve land without trampling on property rights

Free Lance Star

A FRIEND told about me his recent walk on the Fredericksburg Heritage Trail. Sidewalks and road improvements have been implemented so families can walk their dogs or take their children on bike rides. This friend simply walked the trail alone, enjoying the relaxation inherent in the surroundings.

Absent the successful efforts to preserve land and improve infrastructure, the simple pleasure of walking along a trail that links Stafford County and Fredericksburg wouldn’t be possible.

I served on the Board of Supervisors in Stafford for 12 years. Our community is a fantastic place to live and raise a family, so it’s no wonder our area enjoys a steady increase in population.

But let’s be real—traffic is a nightmare. And population growth and traffic are directly linked. The more houses we build, the more cars we’ll have on our roads.

Twelve years ago, there were no programs in place to preserve land and virtually no land was protected. Now, more than 10,000 acres have been preserved and we have several robust programs advancing the cause of land preservation.

One of my signature achievements on the board was to lead the way to preserve Crow’s Nest, a natural preserve where some believe Pocahontas played as a child. Even if she didn’t, it was an area enjoyed by the Patowomeck Tribe.

Had we not made arrangements to purchase the land and preserve it for generations to come, it would have eventually become just another residential development. Instead, families can now launch kayaks in waters that lead to the Potomac.

The rest of Stafford has beautiful open land, too. That’s why it’s important for us to remain vigilant in protecting and preserving land while also respecting and protecting private property rights.

There’s a way to preserve land and target growth toward areas with the infrastructure to support them. One such way is called a Purchase of Development Rights. Longtime Stafford families who own farmland can apply to preserve their land and receive compensation for the land being conserved— and protected from development.

The Stafford County website states it this way: “The Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program enables the Stafford County Government to acquire conservation easements voluntarily offered by property owners as a way to ensure that Stafford’s resources are protected and efficiently used, and limits further residential development on a property.”

There is another way government can “stop growth,” and that’s by taking away your private property rights. It’s called downzoning. Land you own, which has certain buildable rights attached to it, can simply be downgraded to “unbuildable” by the government. It depletes the value of your land. And it eviscerates your constitutional rights.

That’s right, the government can take away your private property.

I fiercely fought for your rights while I served on the Board of Supervisors because I know that land can be preserved without being taken. In fact, we preserved over 10,000 acres of land and we were able to guide growth more prudently toward areas that could sustain it.

It’s now time for Stafford residents to pay attention to what our local government is doing. Once the board eliminates clustering and defunds the PDR program, Stafford will have taken a monumental giant leap backwards.

If downzoning becomes the effective county policy, everyone loses. By adopting policies that target the constitutional rights of some, all of your liberties are endangered.

With reasonable and practical options that do not violate private property rights available to local governments that want to preserve land, there is simply no justification to adopting an extremist approach.

Stafford residents need to protect their individual rights by ensuring the rights of all. Stand up for liberty by letting your supervisor know how you feel about the county’s attempt to embrace downzoning.

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