Ferrel with Ferncliff map

Assistant County Administrator Jeff Ferrel explains a revised draft Ferncliff growth area map at the supervisors’ July 1 work session.

A new tool to protect rural land and encourage development in growth areas was part of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors’ comprehensive plan discussion on July 1.

The tool is called transfer of development rights, and while it is currently in use in just three Virginia counties, board chairman Toni Williams (Jackson district) told his colleagues he thinks it could help Louisa meet its long-term planning goals.

The board addressed the tool briefly at the work session, where they also suggested substantial changes to the Mineral and Ferncliff area growth boundaries. Members also agreed to accept public comment at their Aug. 5 meeting about a proposed policy to limit access to public water and sewer service in Zion Crossroads when usage reaches 75 percent of capacity.

Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes (Patrick Henry district) reached a compromise with fellow board members, removing Mallory Road from a proposed industrial area between Zion Crossroads and Ferncliff. 

Barnes had insisted that no one who lives on the road wanted their land targeted for industry, although that would be possible with the current mixed use designation. The board also agreed to put 172 acres managed by Charles Purcell south of Shortmans Road back into the Mineral growth area. 

The supervisors still have to schedule a public hearing on the comprehensive plan changes. The Louisa County Planning Commission recommended an earlier version on May 30.

The county’s Ag/Forestal and Rural Preservation Committee, on which Williams is a member, discussed the potential of a transfer of development rights system at their May and June meetings. 

In Frederick, Stafford and Arlington counties, rural landowners have a limited number of development rights they can sell to property owners in growth areas. The transfers have the effect of reducing growth on rural lands and increasing the potential density in areas already designated for growth such as Zion Crossroads and Ferncliff. 

As an example, a farmer might give up one development right, and in exchange a landowner in Zion Crossroads might gain five rights. This would allow them to build more housing or retail space than would otherwise be allowed. Meanwhile, the farmer obtains money to help them stay in business and keep their land. 

The cash value of the exchange of development rights would likely be left up to the landowners, said Purcell, a member of the rural preservation committee.

Frederick County requires a rural parcel to be at least 20 acres to qualify. The rural landowner must sign a covenant, which is recorded at the courthouse, giving up most of their development rights.

The transfer system creates an incentive for developers in growth areas, assuming there is sufficient demand in those areas for the additional density. 

Another incentive is that when they implement a transfer of development rights, growth area landowners bypass the need to rezone their property. That could have been an attractive option for the Zion Crossroads developers currently trying to rezone their land to build apartments and retail.  

If Louisa County decides to implement transfer of development rights, it needs to be carefully controlled, according to Robert Gardner, the county’s community development director.

“We have to be careful we don’t all of a sudden deposit 10,000 development rights somewhere that has been a sleepy growth area, and overwhelm neighbors and utilities,” he said.

Gardner said a transfer of development rights system is complicated to start up, and estimated it would take one to two years to establish.