Stafford County Planning Commission, as early as next month could recommend passage of legislation that could change forever any hope the county has of saving its remaining farms, forests, and ecologically sensitive areas from development.
Paul Milde reports an ordinance working its way through the commission will directly affect The Crow’s Nest and all rural parts of the county. Milde represents Aquia District on Stafford County Board of Supervisors.
A change to the county’s zoning ordinance would recommend establishing a transfer of development rights (TDR) program. Milde urges support of the original TDR proposal, which would give property owners the option of saving forever more than 78,145 acres of their land in the county. Under the program, a property owner could voluntarily transfer residential density from a sending area to a receiving area located near the central areas of Stafford. “This process will permanently save agricultural and forest lands, cut development densities on those and other lands and save rural open spaces and natural scenic resources,” Milde explained. “After five years of working on this TDR legislation, it is now threatened by the same old tired politics as usual. Some are more concerned about whom gets the credit and less concerned about saving open space forever. This is coming from both sides of the aisle,” the supervisor charged.
The original TDR legislation that Milde backs included all of the areas outside of Stafford’s designated Urban Service Area (UDA) and that area of concern to Quantico. In the next iteration, the planning commission slashed the thousands of acres to 3500 and only included the Brooke area.
“Now, the planning commission wants to limit the sending area to just 1299 acres in the Brooke area. The smaller we make the program, the less land will be preserved. It’s really just that simple,” Milde pointed out.
The supervisor explained that he and many others had been instrumental in saving 3000 acres of The Crow’s Nest from development, “but much remains to be done.”
Milde explained his interest goes beyond The Crow’s Nest to all other rural areas of the county.
“If we don’t act immediately, these rural jewels will fall victim to the urban three-acre sprawl, which already has gobbled up much of this county. The demand for development is coming back with a vengeance, and we must have tools to meet it. A voluntary TDR program will let owners sever and sell their development rights. These developers then could build more homes than they could have otherwise, but only one extra in the urban areas for each one retired in a rural area,” Milde observed.
The supervisor added that if these homes are allowed to develop in our rural areas nothing goes to the county for county services such as schools, deputies, and fire and rescue.
“If they were moved to a smaller footprint in our designated growth area, they would be much less expensive to service,” he contended.
Milde asserted the original TDR legislation would be a valuable tool in “saving open space in Stafford County before development pressures sprawl over what’s left of our farmland. We have few tools to use to stop sprawl, and we’re losing our farms and forests. TDRs give developers and landowners the option of conserving their rural property rights and putting that density in a better location near the infrastructure and highways.”
Crow’s Nest Harbour
Today, Crow’s Nest Harbour is surrounded on three sides by The Crow’s Nest Nature Preserve. There are multiple owners of the 343 lots in Crow’s Nest Harbour.
“The county has been stonewalling the property owners and not allowing construction, based on a 1972 agreement that says construction cannot take place until public sewer and water are available. The county said it would work toward providing those public utilities, and even collected a $1.2 million bond for these improvements,” Milde said. He added that with interest, the value of the bond money today is nearly $2.3 million.
The county official noted many Crow’s Nest Harbour property owners are organizing to challenge the county’s position that it can prohibit development of their land indefinitely. They contend the county’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan does not permit public water and sewer to their area, and that the county has designated the area a public park, which constitutes an illegal taking of their property. They want the 1972 agreement set aside so they can develop the area by right using onsite septic systems and wells.
“Litigation is a lengthy process, but we’d better have a plan in place, or we may very well get more than the currently platted 343 homes on that property. We do not want a judge deciding the fate of The Crow’s Nest,” Milde asserted.
The supervisor pointed out that owners of over 300 of the 343 lots in Crow’s Nest Harbour have expressed an interest in a TDR program in writing “so they can give us their property or put conservation easements on their land in exchange for their being allowed to build homes somewhere else closer to infrastructure.