County Declares Drought

Following the recommendation of the RWSA, Albemarle County today issued a drought warning declaration, the county has announced in a press release this afternoon. The county cites “especially dry conditions in the last 6 out of 7 months causing dangerously low water levels.” With this comes restrictions, including washing cars at home, washing outdoor surfaces, watering outside vegetation with anything other than a watering can, running an ornamental fountain, filling swimming pools and, bizarrely, serving water to restaurant patrons unless they request it.

Let’s hope we don’t end up going down the same absurd path we went down in 2002, with drinking fountains and bathroom sinks being turned off. Drinking and hygiene are the two essential functions for which water is conserved at times like this. There’s no sense in restricting those.

71 thoughts on “County Declares Drought”

  1. Better yet, since evidently we didn’t get the message last time, maybe this time people will finally wake up and realize that there are finite resources in Albemarle and that growth (and therefore water usage) cannot be unlimited.

    It is ironic to me that this comes right on the heels of the meeting regarding critical slope, where so-called property rights advocates apparently appeared in droves to fight measures to protect our watershed. It seems that we as a community have choice; either we can get used to increasing water restrictions, or we can adopt more intellegent measures to protect the resources we have left.

  2. Waldo, I hope you’ll forgive the blatent shilling but, given the topic and our situation, it’s hard to resist.

    For anyone who wants to cut down on water consumption and is looking for a kit to help with that, the Rivanna Conservation Society sells both indoor and outdoor water conservation kits on their store website,

    I’ve put in all the components of the indoor kit–it’s easy to do and very needed at a time like this.

  3. If the city water department went around the city in the middle of the night (when very few people are using water), they could tell by the meter whether someone had a leaky faucet or needs a toilet flapper.

    They could then mail notices to those households. I’ll bet a number of people aren’t aware that they are leaking water. Even if it were purely voluntary, I’ll bet a lot of people would get their plumbing fixed if they got an official looking letter.

  4. Your right, water supply is an issue that can be addressed. The problem is when does it get addressed! The BOS has spent the time since the last drought in 2002 approving one development after another knowing full well that additional water supply would not be online till sometime in the future. I wonder if they made provisions for not issuing certificates of occupancy during a drought period or phasing growth as the water supply is increased? If not then it would be evident that if this year’s drought is as bad as the one in 2002 and with the increase in the number of homes occupied since 2002, won’t the adverse effects of the drought i.e. restrictions on homes and businesses occur that much sooner?

  5. Falstaff,

    The first problem is where one would put a reservoir… I suppose we could just use eminent domain to seize a large area for it, but I don’t think that’d go over well. Besides, we’ve tried this in the past and then found that there were endangered species in the river we were attempting to dam. (Doh! You’d think they’d check that first before acquiring the property…)

    I think even if we could find a spot for another reservior, there’s still the question of paying for it. In fact that’s true of almost all the solutions offered for the water problems; none of them are cheap.

    The one exception may be what Paul is suggesting. Last time this happened we were able to keep usage really low for months afterwards simply because everyone had fixed all the leaky pipes and had gotten into the habit of conservation. Of course, that only gets you so far…

  6. I didn’t know the land acquired to build the Buck Mtn. Reservoir had some endanged mussel in it that prevented construction. Beautiful. Still, I don’t see why the expansion of Ragged Mtn. can’t proceed. The loss of a few jogging trails hardly seems worth holding up insuring the city and county’s water supply for years to come.

    One last thought: Of course it’s prudent to be cautious with our water supply, and conservation should be encouraged. However, as I sit here typing in the midst of typical summer thunderstorm it’s important to note the area reservoirs, in the aggregate, are at 91.1% capacity. I would hazard they’ll be higher than that tomorrow. In sum, there’s little need for any hysteria over this mild drought generated by environmental groups and abetted by the media at this time.

  7. I can’t wait until they use the drought as an excuse to “temporarily” raise the water rates! Grrrr.

  8. Looks like I’ll be washing my car (at home) every Saturday until they raise the restrictions. I’m going to call it a public service so perhaps they won’t have to raise the water rates when everyone else conserves too well. Perhaps more people will join my effort.

    I might even start watering my weeds, but they seem to be growing well enough without any help.

  9. Falstaff,

    Are you volunteering to have your home bulldozed and the land you spent a lifetime working on seized from you and and covered up with a lake? Because lets be honest, that what creating a new reservoir, such as the proposed Buck Mountain Reservoir, really entails. Not something to be done lightly.

    Of course, all of this would do County residents absolutely no good. Because we don’t have a municipal water distribution system. You could pipe it in for Charlottesville residents, but I think it’s hardly fair to force Albemarle taxpayers out of their homes to build a reservoir that we can’t even use. If you want to build a County-wide water and sewer system, now you’re talking about a project massive in scope that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars (on top of the enormous cost of the reservoir) and would mean outrageous tax hikes beyond what many Albemarle residents are even capable of paying.

    Personally, I’d rather we just stop allowing new large developments that will stretch our water supply beyond what is available. If I have to face a month or 2 of water restrictions every few years, I can deal with that. It sure beats facing the kind of tax bill for capital improvements that would force me to leave the County altogether.

  10. Good points, Jack. But aren’t a lot of county residents who live relatively close to Charlottesville on the city’s distribution system? I’d be curious to know what % of county residents have city water.

    Your point about eminent domain is also taken. It should never be done lightly. Yet I can think of few better justifications for which a landowner’s property could be taken (with just compensation) for a more public purpose, er, use than building/expanding water supplies. (Sorry for the Kelo v. City of New London humor.)

    Finally, what’s the problem with just expanding Ragged Mtn?

  11. RE: “Yet I can think of few better justifications for which a landowner’s property could be taken (with just compensation) for a more public purpose, er, use than building/expanding water supplies.”

    If that’s true, then I hope you are also in support of the changes to the critical slope ordinance and rural preservation. After all, it seems that rendering part of a piece of land undevelopable, or phasing development, is far better for land owners than having their land taken for a reservoir at assessment value (which we all know is often well beneath market value).

    Expanding Ragged Mountain is definitely something that should be explored; however given the new demand for water from developments like Biscuit Run, it’s still not going to solve our water issues. IMHO, the only way to solve the water issues is to finally come to terms with the fact that we are working with a finite resource and we must put infrastructure before development. When you build houses without thinking about where the water is going to come from then you get neighborhoods like Peacock Hill in Ivy, where they once had to truck in water after they ran out.

  12. Lonnie,

    And what, pray tell, is the compensation being offered to county residents affected by the proposed critical slope changes and other government intrusion into property rights? You’re comparing apples and oranges.

  13. IMO this is just another example of Charlottesville & Albemarle failing to make tough political decisions. We need to either commit to building roads, reservoirs, and other necessary infrastructure or commit to strictly limit growth and development. One or the other.

    Instead we just divide into little groups and scream at each other while growth proceeds unregulated and every big or little decision becomes an epic battle.

    Trying to limit growth by refusing to expand infrastructure and so letting living conditions, particularly traffic and water supply, degrade to the point where no one will want to move here is the stupidest possible policy on this issue, but that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for decades.

    As for driving people out of their houses to build a reservoir, why is it that the people who howl the loudest about that produce nary a peep about eminent domain or regulatory takings if the goal is “green fields” or rural preservation or anything else more in line with their goals? If eminent domain can’t be used to make sure that tens of thousands of people have the water they need to live, I can’t imagine why it should exist.

  14. RE: “You’re comparing apples and oranges”

    Am I? It all comes dow to a natural resource issue. That water for those reservoirs has to come from somewhere; it doesn’t just magically appear in the reserviors. One thing is certain, It cannot come from subdivisions. The source of your water is from the same areas proposed for protection by the critical slope ordinance. If you open those up for development then you’ve lost areas that were providing you with clean water.

    People that bought houses in these areas knew that they were zoned rural. Before property values jumped, most people probably assumed that they’d just be resold as farmland. After they saw all their neighbors converting their rural zoned land into subdivisions many people suddently began to feel entitled to “cash out” themselves. In either case, the assessments seem to still be undervaluing land as “rural”, and many of these same people are getting public tax breaks for years for “agricultural use”. In other words, compensation isn’t necessary because they’ve already been getting it for years to the tune of millions of dollars. All that’s really happening is that the county may ask for it to be used as it was actually zoned. Why is that so shocking?

    So… If the county pays you your assessed value for rural zoned land (which is often half of market price) so it can build a new reservior then how do you see really that as “compensation”? If you lose the ability to develop the steeper slopes of your land, then it can still be used for its intended purpose, rural farmland or open space. You could still build an orchard, raise goats, or lease it to a hunt club. It’s value will also continue to grow over time, while in the eminent domain situation you’re forced to sell when the county needs it, not when you can get the best price. Maybe you’re right, it isn’t apples and oranges, because the money “lost” in removing subdivisions is purely hypothetical unless there is actually an offer on the property (i.e. the market could go belly up…) while the loss from a eminent domain is actual.

    I certainly know which option I’d choose if I was concerned about my property rights. After all, what good are property rights if you’ve got no property?

  15. Lonnie,

    I appreciate your thoughtful response. Addressing your points in the reverse order in which they were made:

    1.) Eminent Domain and the Reservoir

    It’s never been my desire to run out and condemn a bunch of property to build a reservoir, particularly when the land has already been acquired for the purpose. However, given the protected mussel under the federal ESA on the Buck Mtn. property, there’s little we as C’ville/Albemarle residents can do about it. What we can do is expand Ragged Mtn. and (maybe?) other existing reservoirs. It seems like a no-brainer to me, but perhaps I’m missing something.

    2.) Land Use Taxation as Compensation

    I just fundamentally disagree with you here. While conceding that local taxes levied on rural land are hard by negligible, how could they not be? If the same rates were imposed on a land owner for his 100 acres of rural land as on the 1/2 acre lot where he lives, the only people who could afford to own rural property would be the super rich. While we have no shortage of these types of people, I don’t fancy them being the only people who can afford to own more than a few acres.

    In addition, when property in land use is developed, the subject property is taken out of land use and substantial taxes are retrocatively imposed on the landowner.

    3.) Property Restrictions as Environmental Measures

    Again, we’re not going to agree. I view these critical slope restrictions as a thinly-veiled attempt to “do for the water supply” what could not be accomplished under “Mountaintop Protection” proposals. It amounts to the focred imposition of policy preferences of local government and various interest groups under the guise of protecting the water supply (for the children, no doubt).

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts and look forward to your next but feel that since we will find little common ground I should retire from the conversation and give you the last word. Have a good weekend.

  16. I have read your article about the drought in your area.
    I was wondering if you have the same problems with Water thieves that we have here in Australia ?
    They are a new breed of water bandits that deprive people and stock of life saving water in rural areas.
    It has become a serious problem in our area and the local farmers are guarding their water tanks used for drinking water.
    Water thieves with portable pumps are draining dams and vital drinking water from storage tanks.
    I have included a link referring to this practice on my website Romsey Australia

    Romsey Australia

  17. Falstaff,

    Thanks for the comments. As to the agricultural tax break issue, I think the Hook covered it pretty well, but suffice it to say that the policy has enough loopholes to drive a fleet of bulldozers through…

    Beyond that, I’ll just say I agree that they should review measures to increase capacity at the existing reservoirs. There is quite alot that can be done there just by removing sediment. I guess time will demonstrate whether that’ll really be sufficient or not to accomodate anticipated growth, but you know my opinion on that!

    With any luck, I certainly hope we won’t end up like our Aussie pal above! ;)

    (Sounds like a scene out of Mad Max or something)

    Have a good weekend,


  18. Falstaff,
    When land comes out of Land Use substantial taxes are not imposed. The owner has to pay only the past 5 years of back taxes. Since the majority of property in land use has been there since its inception in the 70’s, the tax payer get stuck for a substantial amount. I’m sure if you looked into it with North Pointe, Hollymead Town Center, Old Trail, Biscuit Run and all the property in land use that went to development, you’d see the tax payers got stuck for 100’s of thousand of dollars in lost tax revenue.
    As for you contention that if land use about only the rich owning land in the rural area, you realize what your saying is you have no problem with working and middle class families paying for tax breaks for developers and wealthy land owners. According the county, the tax rate last year could have been reduced by 11 cents without land use. Instead, we got double digit tax increases in 2005 and 2007. This is not to mention there is no data to support the program as a net positive for those who pay for it. The Cville Tomorrow survey showed 40% oppose Land Use, while 80% would support tax money going to permanent rural preservation. The public is saying they’re willing to pay for rural protection, not rural rental.

  19. Several points.
    First, I don’t think this drought is nearly as severe as 2002. Not yet, anyhow. Saw somewhere a metereologist said that rain from tropical storms later in the season would likely break the drought.
    I would have a lot more respect for the local governments if they did not so continually approve new developments and more population that will require even more water.
    What really gets me is Mayor Brown saying we need more population,that the city needs to be more dense. “Dense” perhaps describes our city government.
    Does anyone at City Hall ever ask anyone in the public if they want this vision of social engineering that our city government is advocating.
    Someone made a comment about letting things deteriorate until no one wants to live here. Pretty Machiavellian, not one I would really advocate, but effective. Personally, I would not mind to see the population of Charlottesville dwindle down to about that of Sperryville, or Highland County. Thanks, but no thanks to living in a crowded condo building on West Main St.

  20. Crozetresident,

    My family would have to sell our property if land use taxation was eliminated. So would many of my neighbors.

    We are not rich, we in fact are trying to actually scratch out a living from our property. Again, paying full tax values would kill our business and kill the remnants of what passes for farming in this county.

    I am sure we could sell it to some rich person who wants an “estate”, or maybe we could develop it.

    Also, Lonnie, I have to register my displeasure at your usage of the phrase, “cash out”. Like a land owner selling their land is some kind of exploitation.

    It might seem contrite or cliche to you, but our land is my families investment. All our money went into maintaining a business so we could afford to keep our property, and have some sort of meager income. Would you consider the same language if we were talking about your stock portfolio?

  21. Jon,
    First I’m glad you admit your land is your investment. That said, what you’re asking is for someone who is in the exactly same financial situation as you, or maybe worse for that matter, who lives in one of our growth area to subsidize your investment/business till your ready to cash out. By the way I see nothing wrong with the use of the words “cash out”, since for most of us our home and property is an investment and there will be a time for all of us to cash out and hopefully get some return on our investment. Your statement also means you have no problem in taxing someone else out of their home to help you pay for yours. As to my stock portfolio here is the difference, I’m not asking Albemarle County to use the force of government to take money out of your pocket to subsidize my stock portfolio. The land use program was sold to the public as being one of rural preservation, which it is not and has not been according to the County’s own data. This is not to mention that with land use the County government is manipulating the supply and demand of land and in fact is subsidizing higher costs for land and I’m not sure that’s the role of government.

    Now if you want to talk rural preservation, I’m glad to invest my tax dollars in programs such as ACE, because I see it as an investment in the future. It is, in fact, a savings program that will pay dividends because of the homes not built, the schools not needed the roads not paved. It would appear from the Cville Tomorrow Survey I’m not alone.

  22. Crozetresident,

    You have much more freedom to do with your land, in the growth area, than I in the rural area. Rural area zoning is quite restrictive. We do not have the same self-determination, why should we pay the same taxes? Now you do not see it this way, because you probably have a small lot that you can no-longer subdivide or what have you. But to families that have been here for a hundred years (my family), there was a quite a difference between those who used to own the land you now live on and us out in the rural area.

    Not to mention the increase in per acre value that is given to property by being in the growth area. Hmmm, is that somehow Albemarle County using the force of government to do something?

    Also, what are you talking about, “Land Use is manipulating the supply and demand of land” . . . this is obviously the different zoning regions. Each area is playing by a completely different set of rules, as far as zoning And if you dont think this has slowed growth in the rural areas, there are plenty of case studies that we can point to to prove you wrong.

    And the simple fact is that in my case and in the case of my neighbors, land use is in fact working as rural preservation. Because without land use we would seek the ultimate value for our “investment”, which is in fact subdivision (though the cost in money and effort/time is much, much higher in the rural areas. With discounted tax rates, that extra effort is much less appealing, with higher tax rates, the scale is tipped)

    But hey I am sure you are all for increasing zoning restrictions on my property (already more than you have) AND increasing the taxes I pay.

    Anyway, from my limited view, of say 10 to 15 neighbors the problem is not Land Use per-say, it is county enforcement.

    Now if you want the county to be one big Crozet (as in one contiguous subdivision after another, then that is fine . . . of course this would cause property values, taxes and the cost of services to go through the roof–even more than they are now . . . but I suppose you would be cool with paying cville tax rates.

  23. Jon,
    You may have been in this county for some time, but it’s clear you have no knowledge of the historical facts involving zoning. Growth areas were set up by rural land owners who predominated the decision making at the time. To say you don’t have self determination denies the fact it was rural land owners who, up until recently, made up the majority of residents in the County. This is not to mention that of the 6 supervisors on the board 5 come from rural areas. So please don’t tell me you shouldn’t have to pay tax because your not represented.
    As for the manipulation of supply and demand, maybe you haven’t heard of Biscuit Run, North Pointe, Hollymead Town Center and Old Trail to name a few, but all of these developments were land in the growth area and received land use. The fact, the developers got massive tax breaks allowed them to keep the land off the market. Therefore land use has had effect on where and when land got developed in the County. In fact, the case could be made that residents, especially were and are paying higher prices for housing thanks to land use.
    As far as the county being one big Crozet, I made it perfectly clear I support the use to tax money for rural preservation through programs life ACE, which has been very successful in preserving land.
    As for your case that land use is working, the facts just don’t support your statement, I know, I’ve asked the County on repeated occasions.
    You still haven’t answered the question as to why someone in exactly the same financial situation as you should subsidize you. Nor did you answer the question about not minding if you tax someone out of their home to pay for yours.

  24. CrozetResident,

    Thank you so much for your education of the history of the Comprehensive Plan you are right I really needed it.

    You do not acknowledge that compromises and trade-offs were negotiated.

    As for Hollymead, North Pointe, it is the county government that did not hold the developers to the same rules that the rest of us are beholden too . . . why punish those of us who do not have the clout to circumvent the rules.

    Again, land use is working for me, land use is working for my neighbors. What dont you understand about this?

    WE WOULD SUBDIVIDE OUR PROPERTY IF WE HAD TO PAY MORE TAXES. THESE EXTRA RESIDENTS IN THE COUNTY WOULD COST YOU AND I MORE MONEY. And there are neighbors who even have small lots, 20 or so acres, who if they had to pay full taxes would have to divide off a lot and sell.

    You keep saying I am not answering your question, How does this not answer your question?! We in the rural areas, have accepted restrictions on our rights regarding the use of our property. People in a different region of the very same municipality do not have these restrictions. Because of this, if we meet certain standards we do not pay as much tax.

    Also it has the add benefit of at least slowing growth in these very same rural areas, decreasing the amount of people moving into the area, making it cheaper for you to live here. Because of this I can at-least account for approximately 100 new lots in my little area of the county that are not realized. I am assuming the number could be doubled. (whats that about . . . 1.7 million in new costs for the county? If you do the 30,000 about 3)

    But more importantly if we get rid of land use would you compensate me by allowing for use the same zoning that is in effect in Crozet?

    Also, I am a big supporter of ACE and easements in general, but if we did ACE it would pay my new full valued taxes for about 3 or 4 years, maybe 5. Wow.

  25. Jon,
    The County does hold the developers to the same rules as everyone else who gets a land use tax break including you. When the developers cashed out they paid only the last 5 years of back taxes and all the tax break money they got before that is money down the crapper. Money that could have gone into schools, police, fire, etc.
    Of course I understand Land Use is working for you and your neighbors. If I had someone picking up part of my tax bill, I’d say it was working for me as well. You keep on talking about how your land has more restrictions and the fact is it does not. You operate under a set of zoning rules the same as the growth area, rules which by the way were set up rural residents. Under those rules, you have the same ability to develop your property as any land owner in the growth area. As for your assertion that land use has slowed rural development it has not, there is no proof it does and if you look at the number of rural lots developed per year you will see it has not! You and your neighbors do not make it cheaper for me to live here. This year according to CVille Tomorrow Land Use cost 13 million dollar. This is not to mention that the amount the County pays to the city of Charlottesville is based on the FULL Tax value assessment of County property and not the reduced Land Use tax assessment, which by the way was over 1 billion dollars wiped off the books, so tax payer actually pays an extra penalty.
    Let me put it another way. Under Land Use not ONE acre is protected from development. As a tax payer given the choice of how to spend 13 million on either buying permanent protection (ACE) or renting temporary protection (Land Use), I’ll go with the former.
    Again, you have not answered if you mind taxing a person out of their home to subsidize yours. And I’ll add one more question, when you or your family sell your land are you going to sell it at the lower land use tax assessment?

  26. Why is it ok for you to zone me out of my home? With no Comprehensive Plan it would be very easy for me to chop of small tiny little lots to sell when I needed money, but now:

    I get 5 division rights–no smaller than 2 acres mind you, and, and my by-right parcels can be no smaller than 21 acres. And the county is talking about further down zoning and phasing and critical slopes and the like . . . not to mention the restrictions on business or commercial buildings.

    Do we even want to get into what you can do in the Urban/Development areas?

    Soooo . . . some how there is no difference to you? And the people who live with these restrictions (those of us who did not win the lottery and have our land arbitrary included in the growth areas) so we shouldn’t be compensated somehow?

    Not to mention that we do not get the services that you do . . . You know like sewage and water, side walks, new roads to service all this new density

    But I should still pay for it ?. . . I should live with these restrictions, AND pay for all this stuff that I do not even use ?

    So please if you are going to take my land use away, please let me develop to the same density that one can in the growth areas, and would you please get me some public sewer and water services out here . . .

    I would also like a side walk or two . . .

    If I am paying full tax dollar I want the very same services you are getting!

    But I suppose its cool for me to subsidize you but not the other way around, right? I mean because it doesn’t benefit you at all for me to keep my land rural.

  27. Jon,
    If you want a change in your zoning then head down to the county and ask for a comprehensive plan change. If your view point is correct you should have no problems convincing the 5 rural supervisors that indeed you deserve to get a zoning change.
    With regard to the services you mentioned, you should know that 1. Water and Sewer are not delivered by the County, but by the Albemarle County Sewer and Water Authority and 2. those of us who live in the growth area pay for those services. I can only assume that your comment on roads means you don’t use any other roads in the County other then the one in front of your home. So now tell me what services do I get that you don’t? Just remember you also don’t get the density, the traffic and all the negatives that come with growth. But if you want just give me a common value for zoning that can be applied to the entire county, which would put everyone on an equal footing and thus pay equal tax rates.
    But going back to how best to spend the taxpayers dollars. The ACE program has been protecting about 1,000 acres per 1 million dollars of tax dollars (you can see the data on the County web site). Now over the past 4 years the county has given over 40 million dollars in land use tax breaks. So what’s a better value for the tax payer, 40,000 acres under permanent protection or 40 million spent that has not protected ONE acre of rural land. I’m willing to bring to a vote, are you?
    The PEC has called for revision of the land use program and when it comes to land use versus programs like ACE the Department of Agriculture goes with ACE. Finally, your correct the County is talking about further measures to protect the rural character of the County and the Farm Bureau any apparently you are against every one of them.

  28. Crozet Resident,

    I hope you’ll forgive me for interceding here, but it seems clear that the fundamental difference between you on the one hand, and proponents of traditional American limited government on the other is that you regard tax “breaks” to citizens as “costing” the government money. I completely reject that line of thinking as assbackwards.

    The government serves us, not we them. Until you grasp this, I’m afraid you’ll continue to be a stranger in the county of which you know very little.

  29. Quickly to Falstaff, what CR is referring to is the ability to sell the tax credits. VA allows for this. It is a great program though the Rs in State Senate and House just reduced the amount that you can sell the tax credits . . . for actually a lot of the same reasons CR is so against land use taxation

    But back to CR

    Ha!,”If your view point is correct “. . . you sure trust the devil when it is convent for you, huh? You have to have considerable resources to sway the county your way in those situations . . .

    And sure I would like to put it to a vote . . . ummm, what BOS candidate said that they would get rid of Land Use . . .ummmm, none of them, I wonder why?

    And You are naive if you think that your utility bill pays for all the cost associated with the water and sewage authority.

    It is obvious that growth areas get more tax dollars per capita than the rural areas.
    These are huge expenditures that require enormous amounts of public money. Just side walks cost tons of money.

    Hence the original rational for clustering growth, it makes it cheaper and easier for the county to provide the services.

    And thats right from PEC’s website.

    Oh and one of the original rational for land use, you know since we don’t get the services we dont have to pay for them.

    Other than that I can not put it any simpler. My family has been farming and trying to make a business that “preserves the rural character” for two generations. I know many many “small” farmers, that attendees of farmer markets are so found off these days.

    In the face of current market values there is not a single farm over 21 acres that could survive paying market value taxes. The property is simply worth more that you can currently make farming. If you are going to restrict the rights of these farmers for the better of the whole community to do what any finacial adviser would have them do with their core assits, that is maximize their value, then you must compensate them.

    If your goal is to truly “preserve the rural character”, then you will preserve land use, and find another way to augment ACE. Because short of that you will turn the whole county into Keswick. Short of the county government or even state government getting serious about preserving the small farmers, it is already heading that way anyway, and then what do you think will happen to your taxes?

  30. Falstaff,
    Once again you make comments that show you have no idea of what your talking about, but what else is new. Since Land Use is based on lowering the overall tax assessment on a given piece of property, the difference between the lower assessment and full assessment is tax money that doesn’t come into the county. Over the past 4 years that money that didn’t come into the government amounted to over 40 million dollars. As for the “US” you speak of, instead of giving tax relief to all of US, US saw double digit tax increases in 2005 and 2007. If the government is supposed to serve US, then I want to make sure when they spend US money it’s done for a good reason and provides a proven benefit to all of US. There is no data to support Land Use benefits all of US.
    What ever else your referring to is your usual gibberish.

    Unfortunatley this discussion is going nowhere. You have not submitted one piece of data to support land use other then you feel your being picked on for living in the rural area and want to be compensated. About the only thing you got right is the fact the County decided to cluster growth to reduce the cost of service to all the tax payers in the County including you. Finally, you have never answered the question if you feel it’s OK for you to tax someone out of their home to pay for yours, but as so often the case silence provides an answer.

  31. You have never answered the question of why you feel it is OK for you zone me out of my home, without compensation. Come on answer the qeustion.

    Which by limiting the ways I can divide my property, the county effectively does. My family has in fact had to sell property because we could not divide it evenly amongst those that owned it, specifically because of the ordinances on the books. We even wanted to keep the property and enter into easements. My sister wanted to move back to the county and live in the house and was unable.

    So Now lets use the force of government to interfere with your family planning and how you distribute your assets to your family. I suppose to you this is some sort of ridiculous feeling of being picked on.

    For me it is not (I actually do not feel as picked on as you seem to feel), I accept the fact and welcome the comprehensive plan. But I simply do not want to exclusively pay for all its costs via my reduced rights, and restricted ability to maximize the value of my property or determine its final distribution. I demand compensation, and the county has and will continue to provide me this compensation . . . unless I miss-understood all the BOS candidates?

    I assume that the extra 2-5% this costs you on your taxes is actually not going to force you to sell your house and is relatively adequate compensation for my reduced determination And after all we do live in a community and the costs of action should be shared.

    And as for your need for data, you demand a burden off proof that is impossible, because the system designed is not the system you want. Land Use was never intended to arrest development in the same way easements work. Its explicate purpose is to lessen some of the financial pressure for sale and development of land. It is a financial incentive to encourage farming that is designed to work in tandem with more long term conservation strategies.

    And I hope that there will be more financial incentive’s to encourage farming, more business development, more partnerships. And we need them fast, because their are very few farms left and very few who are willing to bear the enormous overhead costs and live the season to season, hand to mouth existence of farming.

    So in conclusion you obviously know no farmers and care not to understand the actual economic pressures that they are under. But I am sure you feel real good about yourself when you go down to the little ol’ farmers market.

    I personally can account for 2,000 to 2,500 aggregate acres (a low estimate of family and neighbors) that is now being farmed, because it is relatively affordable to do so. End Land use and that is no longer the case.

    How can I be anymore clear than that?

    Clean up land use, find the fraud, sure I strongly support that.

    End Land use and substitute it with ACE only, and in 4 years those farms are gone.

    Now you will get your pretty little Keswick drive through experience. A nice place to ride your bike, if they let you through the gate. But you will not preserve, “the rural character” as it is now.

    Now would you please provide for me your plan for the county to actually sustain working farms that exist on minimum profit margins in the GOOD years?

    Again don’t say ACE, because it would only pay the new tax rates for a limited number of years, and it, as a program, is sold to farmers as a way to pay for capital improvements and expenditures.

    Go for it.

  32. Jon,

    Believe it or not, my family too have been farmers for well over five generations. Even so, I support these restrictions on the rural area.

    First of all, I totally agree that the creation of the growth area was a complete mess. I have no idea why the county granted development rights without asking anything in return. They should have waited until we have something in place for people to buy or trade development rights to then transfer them. Since that didn’t happen the TDR’s will probably be minimally successful unless they allow people to go over the density already given away for free.

    I also hear your concerns about being able to afford to live and run a business on your property. Providing a way for farmers and other to live in the rural area affordably is a good rational for the tax-use program. That said, if the ultimate mission of the program is land preservation then it must be measured by that yardstick. What is YOUR end goal? If the answer is that you eventually decide to subdivide, then you’re not actually “preserving” anything are you? And, if you aren’t preserving anything then why should you be getting a tax break? I think you see yourself providing a benefit that you’re panning on subdividing tomorrow, instead of today, but I’m not so sure there’s so much of a difference. After x number of years the amount of development will still be the same.

    Now… if you are SERIOUS about preservation of rural land, then ACE offers two totally seperate benefits you may not be aware of. First of all they pay you for the development rights, which it seems you are aware of; however, the secondary benefit is that you then have permenantly reduced taxes. If you just consider the money they pay, then you’re right, it isn’t as good as land use; however when you add in the tax savings then I think it is more than adequate. If you can prove this is not the case then by all means, let’s increase the ACE benefit!!

    So, heres the crux of the issue… are you planning to preserve rural land or not? If you aren’t then there’s no compelling reason for taxpayers to subsidize your investments; however, if you are willing to commit to keeping your land rural then there are indeed planty of programs that you can use to do that (ACE Being just one of those). Our family uses a combination of programs like CREP, conservation easements and habitat enhancement programs. We also rent forested property we aren’t farming to hunt clubs. Through these strategies we’ve managed to keep our historic farm in the family, so I know there are ways that’d work for you too without resorting to selling out to Charlie Hurt or Wendell Wood.

    After all, there’s no argument in the world that can convince me that turning your land into a subdivision has anything remotely to do with farming. It doesn’t matter if your family has been farming for 100 years or 10; it still doesn’t make houses a “crop”. I stand by my original wording of “Cash Out” because that’s indeed what that is. In fact, if your already aiming for that goal, then you’ve also already given up on farming. If that’s the case, I see no compelling reason why tavpayers should then subsidize what your yourself apparently feel is a failed investment. After all, it be an insult to those who still consider farming a viable and meaningful to themsleves and their communities.

  33. RE: “Clean up land use, find the fraud, sure I strongly support that.”

    For myself, I can certainly be convinced that the existing land use program can be improved. The best way to do this effectively is relatively simple. We could expand the 5 years of back taxes to make it 10 or more. We could also require that people using the program are actually farming something or using it for legitimate conservation purposes, not just hanging onto it until they can sell it to the highest bidder. Do these simple things, and I could see a good argument for keeping the program.

    Also, I strongly support making all ACE Benefits not only meet but exceed anything offered by tax use, if they currently don’t. It’d be interesting to see two properties, one with ACE and one without to see how the assessments compare. Theoretically though, loss of those additional rights reduces your assessment value. That can’t be permanent because all land increases in value eventually; however it should remain well beneath land with the full division rights intact. Could you speak more to your experience on this issue?

  34. Just some more facts.
    From the PEC: from 1988 to 2003 there were 3,371 lots created for a loss of land to development of 61,260 acres with the majority of the parcels under 10 acres.

    From the County, from 1995 to 2005 there was a loss of 16 % of land in land use, with 65% going to easments and 35% loss to development. As of 2004, you had 65 % of the property owners subsidizing 35% of the property owners, who owned 60% of the land.

  35. Lonnie,

    Very interesting posts. First let me be clear, I have stated that I support the comprehensive plan and most of its goals. And I agree with pretty much all that you write, mostly.

    But first and foremost the county’s has more responsibilities than preserving land. It also has the responsibility of fostering business and helping to make farming make financial sense to preserve a way of life that makes the county an attractive place to live. Again, it is widely acknowledged that Land Use taxation is not a very effective tool if your goal is to fully arrest development. But it is a finical incentive for farmers to keep their property as active farms. (your suggestions for tightening LU enforcement are right on . . . though, maybe we could quibble on the back tax years. If this is meant to encourage true land use economies than thats what it should do. Though we might see some people who have small lots do some divisions.)

    But I hope that you are not suggesting that enrolling in ACE be mandatory for farmers if they expect to get help from the local government. The local government should do everything it can to sustain a vibrant local food and rural economy and should not limit the options of farmers in their planning.
    Certainly, my family is considering easements, but going through all the possible scenarios, you come across a very scary one, a bad economic down turn and no options to chop of a leg or even a finger to save the body Just one con in considering the pros.

    Also, you seem to understand that Land Use does in fact slow growth. I do not believe, though, that this is the zero sum scenario you suggest.

    Because wasn’t slowing growth the singular goal of phasing? Was that bad?
    See, my goal is to see us develop a strong rural economy that is a countervailing force to the economic forces that drive development. If we can do this while providing farmers the flexibility anyone would want from their core business investments then why would farmers want to develop . . . this will take time, hence the good of slowing growth. Of course the small farm is on life support, so . . . .

    Anyway I wonder if CR is comfortable with the idea that if I do an easement, I will get a lower tax rate, and get a tax credit that cuts into the States revenue (with the number of statewide easements this is starting to become an issue), which again cuts into the county’s revenue, so in the end he will be subsidizing me twice.

  36. lso, you are most likely right about TDRs but wouldnt they in the growth areas, then be paying for the increased density?


    “Theoretically though, loss of those additional rights reduces your assessment value. That can’t be permanent because all land increases in value eventually; however it should remain well beneath land with the full division rights intact.”

    Well land with full division rights intact is certainly worth more than land that has used some of its divisions.
    Of course not all land is equal . . .
    Though, it is said that with large parcels, eased property is not worth THAT much less than non-eased property.

    They even say that sometimes it can bring more money as a large parcel.
    How the tax man will asses this, though is a mystery to me.
    So conceivably I might be back in the same boat if I do an easement and my values go up on the same trajectory.

    Anyway, Now if you sub-divided that same property its aggregate value doubles or triples. Of course though there are considerable costs associated with such an endeavor . . .

    Also I am sure you have heard about the many cons-jobs, folks getting wildly high assessments on their properties from a friendly assessor, and getting a huge windfall on the reduced value. I think I read about one down in Roanoke that was assessed over 50 to 60% its real market value . . . something like that.

    This goes to another issue, reducing development rights can in fact reduce the financial incentive to ease.

  37. I think its very reasonable to give someone who puts their land in easement a lower tax rate/tax credit(within reason), in fact at the lower land use rate, because we’re now talking about a farm and not a development that currently has cows and hay on it. I had already stated that I would support programs that gain permanent land preservation and am willing for pay for that. Certainly no one should get land use who has land in the growth area. That said, I don’t believe the majority of rural land owners would support/accept your easement for lower tax/credit solution.

  38. Cr,

    Do realize how expensive that would be? It would be far, far more expensive than Land use.

    You rightly point out that every year the property in Land Use is shrinking, so hence its cost to the county are shrinking. And its cost to you are shrinking.

    Not to mention that the county gets a big windfall of revenue they did not have every-time a lot is taken out of land use . . . oh yes we can go back and forth on this, but regardless there is five years of back taxes the county wasn’t counting on getting. Also, they get that revenue right in time for that piece of property to start costing the county money: new house=road use, more police, schools what have you.

    Now the amount of property going into easements is conversely growing every year, so now we are going to give that property a tax credit, which is a real and growing lose in revenue at the state and federal level.
    Which then has the result of these entities having less money to give localities (and the localities will have to replace that money somehow). AND we are going to lose money by giving eased property a lower real-estate tax rate? So now we will a growing amount of property in easements, and the tax burden will have been completely shifted to you in a seismic effect far beyond Land Use.

    Talk about taxing you out of your home.

    Just some cons when talking about the pros

  39. Jon,
    First, we’re already losing the revenue from land use, not to mention we continue to pay and don’t lose any of the development rights. Granted some money comes back in the form of 5 years of back taxes, but I don’t think comes anywhere near making up for what was 1. money lost for years prior to the 5 years the land was in land use. and 2. What those new home will cost us. Each of those development rights exercised in the rural area ends up costing us in additional taxes, both on the local level (schools, police, fire etc) and state, mostly in the form of roads. So the fact these rights are deleted in order to give the tax break is somewhat offset, at least in the long run. I don’t agree with your assertion that the cost to me is being reduced with the reduction of land in land use. Remember the cost of the homes that appear in the rural area is not a one time cost, but because these homes continue to use services the operating costs and therefore taxes will continue to rise and does so out of porportion the the actual population increase. Has anyone see a reduction in the school budget despite the fact student enrollment has been steady? We already see rural residents coming before the board demanding road improvements to handle the increased traffic. How long will it be before they start wanting the delivery of sewer and water. With High Schools now costing upwards of 30 million, and middle and elementary schools around 20 million the savings adds up. I also believe that once government reaches a certain level, it becomes it own consituency fueling itself to grow larger.
    I think the PEC estimated there are somewhere between 40 and 50,000 development rights left in the rural area and if I look at their data the number of rights exercised has been increasing, so the situation is not getting better. As a side note, it would seem to me that once you eliminate your development rights the overall assessment of the land should decrease. If this is the case then it should also make sense that the amounty of money we pay the City of Charlottesville, would also be reduced, since its based on the assessment value of the land in the county, again offsetting the loss of revenue. All that said, there has to be a better answer then land use.

  40. Hmm… Could it be that this conversation is now becoming more productive? ;)

    Jon, a few responses. First, “Also, you seem to understand that Land Use does in fact slow growth. I do not believe, though, that this is the zero sum scenario you suggest. Because wasn’t slowing growth the singular goal of phasing? Was that bad?

    Actually, what I’m saying is that it isn’t actually slowing it in the way phasing would. Biscuit run won’t be spread over meany years but rather developed all at once. This creates a situation where suddenly there is this huge demand for new infrastructure like water, sewer, schools, roads and more. The demands this sort of sudden development put on the community are unsustainable. In other words, having the land sit there since the seventies doesn’t end up helping us much because of the suddeness of development when it occurs.

    Secondly, I’m not against economic development. In fact, I think you say some very reasonable things about encouraging alternative economies like farming that are more sustainable. I think there is massive community support for this sort of thing and I think local government is behind it too. Where I differ is int he belief that subsidies are the way to make that happen.

    In fact, I think subsidies have been the slow death of American farming. I know, that probably sounds like heresy, but hear me out… Subsidies were never meant to be permanent. As an economic tool, they are just meant to help people get back on their feet. Properly used they are like training wheels. Unfortunately, they’ve become an addiction for us. Subsidies have encouraged us to grow crops that are no longer profitable by artificially inflating prices. Also, it isn’t just the small farmer that benefits from them. Agribusiness gets way more than its share, and this unseemly marriage of goverment and corporate interests has created a conflict of interest ultimately weighed against the small farmer. Now Monsanto can bring you to court and sue you for everything you’ve got if some of their pollen contaminates the seed you replant every year. Likewise, who in the world thinks it’s a good idea to fine an elderly couple for not having an “approved” scale at the city market? Lastly, who do you think was really behind the wine distribution fiasco that almost ran out all the small wineries in Virginia? We need less corporate influence on government, and that can only happen by cutting the cord of subsidies that feed them.

    So… what do I propose instead? First of all, I think things like CSA’s and the local markets are critical. To support local agriculture, we simply need to do more to connect local farmers with consumers. That means creating things like a permanent market downtown that can be used rain or shine. Also, reduce the number of products in our farmers markets that are simply resold, not produced locally. I’ve stopped visiting any nursery that carries a large amount of Monrovia and “big tag” plants. (I might as well go to Lowes and buy the exact same thing.)

    We also need to do more to encourage alternative crops. No one is ever going to turn a profit growing corn anymore without massive subsidies. Places like Edible Landscaping, Hill Top Berry Farm, Hyla Brook Farm, and many others are models of the way farming can be done. There’s also a growing market for medicinal herbs and native plants. I think alot of work could be done to help grow these markets. For that matter, we could ask the city and county to start using more locally grown plants as it landscapes, or we could have a percentage of school lunches made from locally grown produce. Anyway, I think there’s lots of room for creativity here that goes far beyond simply providing tax breaks.

    Lastly, I’m not necessarily saying that all farmers should be required to get easements. I do think though that the land use needs a great deal of reform. It may also be wise to gradually shift the funds used for land use into ACE. Whether that happens by providing better incentives, or by reducing or eliminating the incentives for land use is something I could debate either way. I do feel that easements are a much better investment of taxpayer money though. (Also CR put it, easements don’t cost taxpayers more because cows don’t attend schools.)

    Now, to play devils advocate, there is also significant reform that could be done to easements as well. First of all, easements are currently only a tool offered to the largest of landowners who are generally fairly wealthy. Unfortunately, most of our conservation priority areas are collections of smaller plots that are still in danger of subdivision. We need an equivalent incentive for small landowners too; otherwise I feel the easement program could be seen as just an entitlement program for the rich. Also, we currently just have open space easements. We also need to offer biodiversity easements, which can offer additional incentives to protect things like green space, unusual habitats, and rare species. We may also benefit from local “cost share” programs that encourage better management of resources and provide incentives for creating habitat or using better farming techniques.

    In short, I think we need to get away from subsidies and start moving towards incentive programs to help empower people. Subsidies rob us of our power and leave as addicted and powerless. Incentives give us power to make our own choices to help sustain our community. That distinction is important to me.

    (Sorry this was so long…)

  41. You have this argument ass backwards, you start at the Comp. Plan and the assumption that there should be absolutely no growth in the rural area to save you and only you money.
    When in fact all along the goal of the Comprehensive Plan as been to channel growth in the Development areas and SLOW growth in the Rural Areas.
    Before the Comp. Plan and before zoning, all land was equally dividable, everyone payed the same taxes. After the Comp. plan those closest to the traffic corridors where allowed to divide at higher density, those outside of these new development areas had division right TAKEN away from them. This was real monetary value. Do you get it? Can you understand simple subtraction? The county said ok we are going to down zone you, so we will compensate you with a lower tax rate.
    Again, this I accept, I accept the limits on the determination of my family’s assets because it benefits the community; and I realize up to a point, land is a communal asset as well as a personal asset. But it is also a sacrifice for me, again this is about determination, this can make it hard, if not impossible in some cases, to chop off a finger to save the body, and this has absolutely nothing to do with “cashing out”.
    If I am doing this for the benefit of the whole community then I want compensation.
    So, I put forward to you again, the question you refuse to answer: Why is it ok for you to zone me out of my home, without compensation?
    But as you correctly assert over and over again non-developed land does not cost the county as much as developed land, no? Then how does Land Use actually cost the county anything? If we are not providing that land any services while it is still in Land Use then actually no money is lost. A piece of farm land simply does not cost the county as much money and it actually provides the county services.
    You prove my point that the two different types of property receive a different level of services and in fact deserve different levels of taxation.
    Also, “I can only assume that your comment on roads means you don’t use any other roads in the County other then the one in front of your home.”

    You said that, not me.
    Roads are certainly an issue but just to let you know roads cost the

    county approximately 8-16 cents on the tax dollar. Schools, 59. Your argument that somehow growth in the rural areas is causing the increase in the schools budget, is absurd. It is well know that this is a result of the federal mandates.
    By the way the revenue sharing costs the county about 3 cents on the tax dollar spent.

  42. Lonnie,

    Again your posts brings up some interesting points. I was already responding to Cr when yours came up . . . but I have to get back to work. I will respond later tonight.

  43. I assume the comments from Jon were directed toward me so I’ll respond. With regard to services, you still haven’t told me what services I get that you don’t or put another way, what services growth area residents receive that you don’t have access to. You were wrong about water and sewer service or can I expect rural residents to help us pick the cost of the new sewer line for Albemarle Place. I don’t think so.
    As for roads, service is delivered at the level of service the state determines they need. Indeed, a certain amount of funding the county gets from the state is partitioned out toward paving rural roads despite the fact that based on level of service there are growth area roads that should be addressed first.
    You keep on refering to the fact that “I” somehow rezoned your home and you didn’t get compensation. Again, the “I” your refering to were elected officials who represented the entire community and at the time the majority of those who made the zoning laws you keep bitching about were rural residents. You may not like it, but zoning is a fact of life. I can’t change my home into a commercial business because the zoning doesn’t allow it, so should I be compensated? I suspect there will always be people like you who feel they got a raw deal.
    But if I understand whay your wrote, your view of the comp plan is one that allows for the SLOW destruction of the rural character of the County. If so, I agree with you and the data from the PEC with over 61,000 acres lost to development proves your point. So the question is why should I want to subsidize this destruction with land use tax breaks.
    As for schools, please re-read what I wrote. The point I was making is there are 10’s of thousands of development rights in the rural area and that if converted into homes will result in the increase need for all types of services including schools. Additionally, these new homes will have not only a startup cost to the county, but more importantly have an ever increasing operating cost. Therefore, it is cost effective to do whatever can be done to put in place a program for permanent protection, which thankfully more and more people know is not land use.
    As to Lonnie’s comments, thank you for a number of very reasonable viewpoints.

  44. Ahhh, Mr. Crozet,

    “your view of the comp plan is one that allows for the SLOW destruction of the rural character of the County.”

    Well if you want to use that language, I guess thats what the Comp plan lays out, its really not an issue of interpretation.

    If by slow destruction you mean the house that we just built for my mother, then there you go, or maybe you mean the house that I plan to one day build for myself (I now rent), or do you mean the house that Waldo is getting ready to build in the rural area?

    I mean with explosively loaded language like that, who are you talking about?

    And as far as persecution complex, Mr. “Your Taxing Me Out Of My Home”, please do not project yours on me.

    The I, I am referring to is I. Yes, indeed the zoning laws that I am supposedly bitching about were in acted by “rural” residents, hence the compensation via Land Use taxation. Its not a raw deal it was in fact part of the DEAL.

    It is you that moved hear after the deal was cut and started bitching about the deal.

  45. Also, please prove to me that when a peice of property is taken out of land use and its back taxes are payed, and a house is built on it, that in the end it has cost the county any more money than a house built in the growth area.

    Acount for the fact that we are going back and paying for 5 years that that peice of property was not costing the county a thing. Not to mention that it wasnt costing the county a thing for 30 years.

  46. Also, check some of your assumptions. How many of those development rights are actually in land use?

    How much of the acreage developed was in Land use?

  47. And how about services that you get that I dont, ummmm, how about Public Works? How about the fact that the Growth areas are the priorities of the road funds. I know that it really pisses you off that we get anything at all. Despite the fact that we have been out her long before you moved here.

  48. Jon,
    I’ll try to explain to once again although I don’t think it will penetrate. Let’s take schools. Assuming that we both have students in a class room getting the same instruction, then what are the differences in the cost to educate a student. The most obvious is the distance from the school to the student’s home. With gas now heading toward 3 dollars and higher the two factors that effect the over all cost of educating a student are distance from school and the number of students who are on the bus. Therefore on a per household/per student basis the cost of transportation is higher for rural students. The cost of gasoline also effects the cost of delivering other services such as police patrols. I hope that makes thing clear.
    On the cost of building homes in the rural area, it doesn’t matter if its you, your mother or Waldo. What matters is the number of homes that are build and the cost of the services they require. This is not to mention the change in the rural character, which by the way is probably more disturbing to your rural neighbors then to me.
    As for how many of the development rights are in land under land use you can check with the county, but the simple answer is, since the vast majority of land in the rural area is in land use ergo most of the development right also reside in land under land use.
    Now on to roads. The reason growth areas get priority in roads is very simple, that’s where the cars are.
    On final thought. I never said you were taxing me out of my home. What I asked is if you minded taxing someone who was in the same financial situation as you out of their home. A question you never answered.

  49. Hmmm…

    Let’s see if I can summarize some of the POV here:


    It is unfair to tax growth area residents more, in order to give tax breaks for the rural area which ultimately have no promise of saving the county anything since they can be developed all at once thus requiring massive amounts of infrastructure. Furthermore, County statistics show that development of rural areas is keeping pace with the growth areas.


    It’d be nice for people who’ve historical lived in the county to be able to continue to do so affordably, and be able to subdivide their property for their children. Land use taxation currently allows lots of people, like Jon’s family, to afford to continue living in the rural area. They are fearful of easements because they view the ability to subdivide as a “safety net” if their business goes belly up. Without that, they might be forced to sell the whole property in an economic downturn.

    Am I getting all this right?

    So… CR and Jon, it really sounds to me like there are huge areas upon which one can find common ground here. Like CR, I agree that land use taxation as it stands is not working to protect rural area (and the stats bear that out). I also, having grown up here in the county, have a bit of empathy for people who are realizing that they might not be able to afford to live here anymore.

    Keep in mind, shifting from land-use to easements need neither be immediate nor forced. There’s also a continuum between each of the extremes that can be found by reducing or expanding the benefits of each program. IMHO, The best solution would probably be to phase out land-use by gradually reducing the benefit while simulataniously increasing the ACE benefit. I also think the sum of the solution cannot be contained within these two programs. We need a range of programs, incentives and resources that help encourage sustainable business in the county. Perhaps there is even some way the county could help provide a better safety net for farmers in easement who tend to just barely break even month to month (although I’d also like to do more than treat the symptom, by encouraging them to pursue more viable crops…)

    Also, I’d just like to add though that farming, like any business is inherently risky. In fact, your success is highly dependant on your ability to take risks in return for the chance of larger gain. Even so, as much as the community benefits from having rural area, we should help remediate some of that risk. Farmers, and other rural industries, really do need our help, but hopefully we can all agree that Wendell Wood is really not the solution. That’s like chopping off your head to cure your headache.

  50. CR,

    Your question: Here is my answer, if you conclude that any government incentive is a tax on you then I do not know what our common ground could be.

    Because this is an incentive provided by the county to encourage the viability of a rural economy and discourage development. It is like any other government incentive or subsidy. Local, State, and Federal hand these out all the time. You might in fact have your job because of a similar incentive. Some of these are in the form of tax credits (like land use) other in direct funds.

    Again, get rid of land use, and you kill my business. Under the weight of current property taxes the overhead of the property values are just to much overhead for a small profit business to handle. Just to give you an example, my family’s property had 1 million dollars added on to its assessment just last year alone. This is a huge jump in real dollars over anything your house is seeing. Again 1 million dollars. This great if I want to sell, but its killing us even at Land Use values. And please tell me how rural business are going to survive a sudden violent quadrupling of their tax bills? without causing a massive sell off? You have not addressed this issue.

    Again you are talking about actually quadrupling my tax bill to save you 2% on yours.

    Of course this is all well and good in a market economy world, but our goal is to:

    preserve the “rural character” . What does this mean to you? Is this best done by gentrification? What do you want to preserve?, is this some sort of taxidermy experiment for you; A place that is nice to go take pretty pictures? Or is it one with a vibrant functioning community and economy?

    If our goal is the vibrant rural economy then there is not one silver bullet, we have to consider and use and complex of solutions. Because in some ways, and for the time being this type of economy (without some of the real changes Lonnie is talking about) is an artificial economy. The property values just out pace income at a rate that is mind numbing.

    Again, easements on their own will simply not give the flexibility or stability to rural economy that is need to foster the “rural character”–what a fascistic term, anyway.

    Mainly because the long term value of eased property vs none-divided is not all that different; at the beginning, without Land Use my eased tax value would still be higher than if I was in Land use only.

    So this is all fine and good if you do not actually care that there is a functioning economy out it the rural areas. Is this true?

    The benefits my business provides the county:

    1. Foremost we keep a large chunk of land and protect the water shed and provide wildlife habitat, at no cost to the county, and we pay taxes.
    2. We have several employees on the pay roll, who also are now able to pay taxes.
    3. We bring in a bunch of transient lodging tax, which pays for the JPJA, and the ACE program.
    4. We provided business opportunities for many many vendors, among them local producers of farm goods, who are then able to support keeping their land and pay their employees.

    Not much different than business in the growth areas, but mine helps support preserving the rural with the assistance of Land Use. I do not think that any of the vendors–in the growth areas– who get business via my business have any interest in seeing me go under.

  51. Lonnie,

    51.6% of all new single-family dwellings last year went into the rural areas.

    The flip 49% went into an area no larger than 5% of total area. An apples to oranges comparison. I will give my thoughts on this in my next post.

    And a heartening look at the data is the fact that eased property is out pacing land lost out of LU. A trend that if it continues should not cancel the other trend out, no?

    Again, I agree with lots of what you say, and I addressed some of the things in my last post, before I read your current post.

    But again, I disagree that fully getting rid of LU in the place of ACE will solve our problems. One reason is because it will not provide the wind fall to ACE one will assume, because as the two trends, development and easing continue, there will not be that much money there . . .13 million this year, maybe 12 or 11 next, and so on. The other is again, non-developed land is at market value not worth that much more that eased property. Considering that a lot of these large parcels are now being purchased for estates, not sub-divisions

    With the current budget battles at the state level easement’s future is not secure.

    They are in fact not freebies, and that they are actually really starting to eat into state revenue; they are coming under more and more heavy scrutiny. In fact just last year the state’s tax credit program was almost effectively gutted. The tax credit is now 40% on the dollar instead of 50, and the state is capped at 100 million worth of tax credits a year. This is a major reduction in their financial viability for your average lower to middle, middle income farmer who is land rich.

    Can we expect further cuts? I know my girlfriend works for the State and Kaine just sent out a memo asking agencies if they can cut 5% . . . whats next?

    Also, I wonder, I can not find any hard data on how many total easements there are in the county–DRPs not acreage. Something like 280 some from ACE, but what about other entities. For instance my family put 70 acres in a historic easement, which we received absolutely no money for . . . I think there were still at least 4 drs on that parcel. So what else is out there does the county count all these DRP’s?

  52. Jon,

    I’m sure CR can answer for themself, but here’s how I would answer your statement:Your question: Here is my answer, if you conclude that any government incentive is a tax on you then I do not know what our common ground could be.
    You see, the issue is that the there is a fiscal equavalent of the law of conservation of energy here. Giving you a tax break doesn’t reduce the overall budget for the county. That means, that the money in tax breaks given out has to then be recouped from those not using land use. In other words, giving you a tax break means raising someone else’s taxes (Unless you’re advocating that the county provide less services.)

    The major problem with that philosophy is that instead of a piece of property being gradually subdivided over many years, it creates an incentive to hand on to it until the market price is at its peak and sell it all at once. The overall impact on infrastructure is worse this way, so the benefit to other tax payers is negated. Biscuit Run is an excellent example of this, because once you consider the new schools, water, sewer, runoff, and all the other costs this kind of development puts on the community it is no where near offset by only five years of back taxes.

    I’d hazard a guess that most people angry about land use policy are peeved about this sort of senario, and not the one where a farmer or other rural business is looking for a way to pass their assets down to their children, as it sounds that your family is. The question is, how do we allow one without the other?

    Personally, I thought phasing was an excellent answer to that, since it would have allowed people to make long term plans and gradually subdivide for their children while providing a strong disincentive to sell out to the likes of Charlie Hurt. I may have thought the time limit was a bit long, but the general idea was right on track. Then, the Farm Bureau, who didn’t bother participating in the open discussion creating the policy, attacked it with a vengance. One member even told me directly that this would prevent him from selling his farm to a developer, so he could move to West Virginia (as if either of those things has anything to do with farming in Virginia). I think alot of the anger against land use can be traced directly back to the consistent opposition within certain factions of the farming community to any kind of controls on growth.

    In truth, it felt alot like the veil had been pulled away, and we all realized that many of the people using land use had no intention of continuing farming and where merely planning to hold out for the highest bidder. The gross misuse of the program for recent large developments only further cemented the anger about this program and its inability to slow developmentin the rural areas. You can then see how then the push to do away with land use altogether might have evolved…

    So, my suggestion is that people in the rural area need to realize that the larger community, including lifetime residents like myself, have very strong feelings about the loss of our rural areas and the demands that places on things like our water supply. If you enjoy the benefits of land use, then I’d suggest becoming an advocate of more responsible controls on irresponsible growth. Otherwise, the inertia to do away with land use is only going to increase.

    Protecting things like critical slope seem really obvious to me. Anyone that remembers the last drought, or the many deaths caused when hurricane Camille swept all the houses on critical slope down the mountains, can tell you that these areas need to be protected for both public safety and for water conservation. Most responsible landowners should be doing this already. There are other profitable ways to use these areas that don’t involved houses, plus this policy will include a mechanism to get waivers. When people like myself, who are concerned about irresponsible development, see opposition to things like this my very first thought is that they are angry mainly because it’ll prevent them from selling their land to build the next Hollymeade “Town Center”.

    In short, you can’t have it both ways. Either you want to help preserve farmland and rural areas for yourself and the next generation, or you’re unfairly benefiting from a tax program designed primarily to help slow growth in the rural areas. If the land use is being misused, and there’s good reason to think it is, then there’s going to be an outcry for it to be removed. If other land owners would do more to support legitimate reforms like I’ve proposed that would provide real incentives to make farming viable, and cut out the misuse of this program then I think we could come to a soultion that would benefit everyone except the likes of Wendell Wood.

    (Heck, I even hold out a grain of hope that developers like him may see the light someday and realize that there is good business sense in developing in a more sustainable fashion. One can dream I suppose…)

  53. …my family’s property had 1 million dollars added on to its assessment just last year alone. This is a huge jump in real dollars over anything your house is seeing. Again 1 million dollars. This great if I want to sell, but its killing us even at Land Use values. And please tell me how rural business are going to survive a sudden violent quadrupling of their tax bills? without causing a massive sell off?

    Jon makes a good point as to how property taxes are assessed and it’s one that doesn’t apply only to rural property. The basic premise of taxing real property at its assessed market value is fundamentally disruptive to communities. Increases in real estate values are nothing but “paper profits” that aren’t realized unless the property is either sold (thus realizing a capital gain) or leveraged by re-financing. The current state of the real estate and mortgage market tells us enough about the folly of encouraging the re-financing of homes to create cash. The sale of property to turn these paper profits into cash changes the fabric of a community by encouraging development.

    It’s interesting to note that the federal government recognizes that it’s not healthy to tax unrealized capital gains. If I own publicly-traded stock and that stock increases in value, I don’t pay any income tax on that increased value until I sell the stock. Once I realize the gain and convert my stock into cash, I’m obliged to pay capital gains tax. Why not treat local real estate taxes in similar fashion? Freeze all real estate assessments at current levels. Permit reassessment only upon sale of property and make the new assessment the sale price. That way, whoever buys the property would, in a free-market validated manner, have given assent to the valuation that they would be taxed on. If political leaders find that they need more money to run the local government, they can make their case and adjust the tax rate, as needed, rather than be permitted to ride the gravy-train of increasing property values.

    This sort of plan couldn’t be implemented by localities without assent by the state legislature, but, at the very least, pressure should be brought upon our delegates and senator to take active steps to end what is clearly a growth tax.

  54. Now to your contention that I can not prove that LU is in fact delaying development.

    To hold your belief it seems like to me you would have to hold some assumptions about the Comp Plan

    Mainly that it is failing because that there is still growth in the RA, and that we have to increase services to that growth.

    Again and Again, the Comp Plan accounts for growth in the RA, albeit slowed, if not simply for natural, non-emigrant growth.

    So in the Universe of the Comp Plan our base line is not in fact that there is should be zero growth in the RA, our base line is the relative intensity of that growth has in fact lessened lessened in comparison with the DAs

    Albemarle county has had an increase in its population from 68,000 in 1990 to 84,000 in 2000 (23.5%) And startlingly 79,236 to 92,035 (16%) since 2000. In the same time frame Crozet has seen its population go from around 2,700 to about 3,600 (30%, nearly double the county’s overall growth rate)

    I think it is fairly safe to interpolate Crozet’s data out into all the other growth areas This means that the growth areas, a mere 5 % or 23,000 acres in area is absorbing population at a rate double rest the county’s 440,000 some acres in area.

    One part of this is of course is down zoning, but with the real estate bubble why did we not see more RA land owners max their subdivisions and cash out? I bet you know my answer, a countervailing economic force.

    Now you see this as taking one on the chin for the team, I see this as part of the original deal. Land owners in the DA’s accepted this designation, and received the extra services, and increased determination and land value due to density in exchange for living with that density. Those in the RA, exchanged decreased determination, down-zoning, and less services for Land Use valuation.

    Each side gained something, each side lost something. You refuse to acknowledge that this bargain that was made long before you got here.

  55. Harry,

    You just blew my mind . . .I will have to chew on all that.

    Quickly Lonnie, I simply do not have time to keep writing and reading.

    But I am not happy about Biscuit Run, for many reasons. I wish someone would have sat the Breedens down and offered them some different family planning, to say the least.

    Also, because now because an entity was able to use their considerable resources to get a re-zoning that I could never hope for or want, I have to now defend a program that is essential to my business

    But, also for consideration, if I am not mistaken, they are offering proffers (though not as much as they should) in addition to the back taxes, no? Also Biscuit Run is not going to happen all at once, the cost will not be immediate, the county will be getting revenue in stages.

    Plus are you are not suggesting that we would be somehow better off if this thing was created 10 or 15 or 20 years ago? We could have had the whole county covered in them just like NOVA or over in the valley.

    The goal is of course to not have these things happen, but slowing them has had the affect of decreasing the opportunities for these things to happen, via the 65,000 acres eased and growing . . . maybe more?

  56. Also, anyone have the time to sit down and have some beers over this stuff?

    Maybe we wont kill each other

  57. Lonnine,
    I believe you have come up with a accurate summary. From my perspective I feel I have have put forth enough data to support my position that land use is not working and that government has the responsibility to make sure that if it’s going to transfer millions of dollars into rural land owners pockets, especially when that money comes from many low and middle income families, it must prove the value of the program. That said, on several occasions I have stated I would find the solution of continuing land use tax levels but requiring the owner to divest their development rights as a condition of getting the tax break acceptable. Again my reasoning is the long term savings of infrastructure that would be now not be needed to support rural development would offset the loss of revenue from the lower tax rate. Unfortunately I have either not made myself clear to Jon, or he doesn’t find this solution acceptable. I would also accept your solution of a phasing out of land use in favor of ACE, a program which has shown to be very successful. The fact that more people apply for land use then there is money to go around proves there are rural residents who find ACE the answer to continue farming.
    I spoke to the folks at the PEC and learned some very interesting facts. First the level of rural development has remained steady and has done so despite rising supply of housing in our growth areas, which in some ways shatters the myth that providing growth areas to concentrate development will slow rural destruction. As I mentioned the PEC figures there are about 50,000 development rights exist in the rural area and that at this time about one half have been exercised. The question is do the residents of the County, both rural and growth area want to see the continued slow destruction of the rural character of the County or as Lonnie put it go the Wendell Wood route. They also felt the county does have the ability to do what we are suggesting (tax reduction = giving up development rights), but felt the solution would be unacceptable to current rural residents. With regard to ACE and taxes it was their opinion that when a land owner puts their land in easement under ACE and removes their property rights that the tax assessment goes down and therefore the taxes paid goes down. From the examples they have looked at however, the rate of the lower assessment is not a great as that under land use, although they had no way to explain why. Whether this difference is offset by the fact the land owner is paid to eliminate the rights was also unknown.
    I would like to go back to one point I made regarding an unspoken cost of land use which resulted in the increased cost of housing to residents. From what I was told by PEC the person who pays the 5 years back taxes is the person who changes the use of the land. What this means is if a land owner sells their property to a developer they don’t pay the 5 years back taxes and in fact in cases like Hollymead, North Pointe, the developer continues to get the tax break until such time as the land is rezoned. And does anyone believe the developers doesn’t pass the cost of the back taxes on the new home owners? If so, I got a bridge in Brooklyn I can let you have real cheap.
    I’m not sure where this leaves us, but the fact there are others who are questioning the validity of land use is hopeful. This plus the fact the demographic are changing with the majority of residents now living in the growth area who will eventually wise up, I sure will soon make a difference. Until that time I’m sure rural residents will continue to resist every measure of change.

  58. “Giving you a tax break doesn’t reduce the overall budget for the county. That means, that the money in tax breaks given out has to then be recouped from those not using land use. In other words, giving you a tax break means raising someone else’s taxes”

    I still argue, those paying more taxes are generally in the growth areas, getting more services. Again, Public Works, for instance: “Albemarle County Public Works is poised to deliver construction management and maintenance services in the more densely populated areas of the County. The following projects, valued at over $3 million, have been either installed or scheduled for construction in the CI2 Program.” Stormwater management is another service we do not get out here in the RA.

    If Crozet is an accurate guide when compared to the county’s overall population growth, people are moving into the growth areas at a rate of 2 to 1. This is an area, that only represents 5% of the total county And here is the actual Building permits to prove that I was right:
    Kind of tells a little bit different story than that hook blog piece:

    Dev: 588
    R: 286
    D: 434
    R: 336
    D: 369
    R: 281
    D: 622
    R: 253
    D: 1404
    R: 316
    D: 781
    R: 298
    D: 318
    R: 281
    D: 534
    R: 296
    2007 as of first quarter
    D: 267
    R: 57
    I got this info from Wheelers web site,
    How he got the Building Report, I do not know how, the county does not have this on their site.

    The PEC rightly points out that RA development has basically stayed the same, though they do not provide the context that the DA development (again only 5% of the county’s total area) has sky-rocketed. This is remarkable considering the huge population influx this county has faced: again; 68,000 in 1990 to 84,000 in 2000 (23.5%) And startlingly 79,236 to 92,035 (16%) since 2000
    Again, more evidence that the Comp Plan and its parts are working as originally designed.

  59. Also, I want to know at what point does a DA reach that tipping point, where the costs of an urban area go through the roof: simply because the capital expenses per capita for the services required in said area are SO much more expensive than a moderately populated area.

    Look no father than the different tax rates for Charlottesville City and the County. AND as CR are keeps griping the City still needs money from the county! Look at the tax rates for any city. City’s are expensive to run.

    Has Crozet for instance reached this tipping point? Might it be time for Crozet to incorporate and start taking responsibility for its own infrastructure? Will it need a higher tax rate, like Charlottesville for instance, to do just this?

  60. I think the difference is between single family dwellings and other buildings. My understanding is that if you look at single family dwellings then many more homes by percentage are occurring in the rural area.

    Also, it may be a bit more controversial, but I’d say that the supply and demand economics don’t apply in a straight forward manner to local real estate. After all, the demand isn’t local, since for the most part it isn’t local people buying the homes. Once you take that into consideration, then it really challenges the notion that one could actually build enough homes to decrease the demand in significant way. In fact, I’d argue that some kinds of development may actually increase demand. Couples might seek out a town that just built a new school, or developers often seek out towns that have just completed major road projects or built new reserviors.

    To be fair though, it maybe impossible to know what impact the creation of the growth area actually had on the rural area without going back in time and doing it differently. The one thing we do know is that it hasn’t reduced demand or home prices. (Only the national market can accomplish that.) Besides, perhaps a more useful question is “did it do enough?” and “what was the quality of the development taking place?” In my opinion, not only was their too much unsustainable growth, but it was also done in an irresponsible manner with no regard for infrastructure and community values. The Hollymeade “Town Center” stripped off every single tree, violated several wetland laws then proceeded to cause a mudslide blocking traffic on 29, and all of this with barely a slap on the wrist. We can do better, growth areas or not.

    As to your point about Crozet, I actually think it would make a whole lot of sense for Crozet to incorporate. If for no other reason than the county has done such a poor job of representing the wishes of that community. Regarding the tax issue though, I think another complicated factor is that in many cases the county also costs the city money. For example, the city has no real need for the Meadowcreek Parkway. That road is completely based on the demands of county residents on 29 who want a quicker private freeway of their own to travel to work from their megasubdivisions.

    As to the cost of infrastructure, that only applies if the rural area stays rural. CR is right that it costs more to deliver infrastructure to people spread out. Also, if one assumes a property with 100 division rights, then slowly developing those over thirty years probably wouldn’t cause nearly the damage than if on the thirtieth year they are developed all at once. In both cases the amount of development is the same and it’s arguable whether the property in land use for thirty years has really saved the county anything because of the massive impact it’ll have when developed (and all that will happen at the highest cost possible, and with little time for planning). Now if you combine land use with phasing then that might be a more workable solution…

    Lastly, if the county was actually developed to it’s maximum number of division rights then it would be nothing short of a complete disaster. It doesn’t take too much reasoning to see that we can’t sustain that number of people unless we are willing to culvert all our streams, level the mountains, and just pave the whole friggin place. There is an optimal level of growth, and we need to determine what that is as a community and take measures to preserve the things that make life here special and sustainable. I see it as not only an issue of fiscal responsibility but as one of our highest moral responsibities as well.

    With every action, we have to consider what’d happen if all our neighbors did the same thing? If one person can max out the development rights on their property with no regard for critical slope, green space or habitat, then what keeps everyone from doing that? It should take very little imagination to see the dire consequences of that sort of thing. Whether through incentives or regulations, something needs to be done, and it’s clear that our current representatives aren’t doing it.

  61. Oh, and Beer… I’m all for it!

    Maybe we could enlist Waldo’s assistance to help organize bloggers for a nice evening out to discuss these issues further? Maybe we could even persuade some of the folks like Wheeler, someone from PEC, or even some of the BOS candidates to come and participate?

    My only criteria is that the venue have Starr Hill on tap!

  62. Maybe the City will roll out their “10-for-10” water conservation promotion again. Remember that? Ten ways to save 10% on your water usage.

  63. Oh, speaking of development and sustainable agriculture, there’s one other technique that hasn’t been brought up here yet, preservation development. This is the technique being used at Bundoran Farm in Batesville, and instead of massive community resistance, citizens actaully can out to support approval of the development. So, you can have open space, ustainable agriculture, and development all at the same time. I think it’s this kind of creativity and vision that our county needs more of.

  64. Bundoran Farm,


    Back in the day when we still had a ton of federal farm debt, my father came up with a similar preservation development idea, actually got it approved, a county planer just told us they still use it as an example of the best way a pd could be done.

    He got sick and we couldn’t do it so we had to sell the parcel with the house that I grew up in (the one with the historical easement).

    So goes life. Dad would kill us if he were still alive, but I am also glad we didn’t develop our property.

  65. At Buck Mountain, we are paying for the federal government’s privilege to decide when to kill the James spinymussels located there, after we pay for considering and implementing all other options. After its dubiously handled BRAC land acquisition, the federal government will be partially responsible for the impending sewer meltdown at the ironically named Camelot Wastewater Treatment Plant. Our current Board of Supervisors has doubled the number of new units allowable in the Crozet growth area in open subversion of the comprehensive plan. Our water rates are about to double also. Who is connecting these dots on the BOS?

  66. Has the City found a solution to providing suffiicient and sustainable water resources to accommodate future growth? I found the following in the agenda’s background material for next week’s City Council meeting. It is a request for $18,000 to provide three rain barrels for the irrigation of the city’s urban garden. From the PDF – “Community Council) staff and community leaders on the QCC urban farm project. Getting water to the farm area has been a particular problem. A couple of weeks ago we met to discuss the possibility of harvesting rainwater from the roofs of adjacent buildings. With the help of the Nature Conservancy and cooperation from Friendship Court Property Manager Linda Newlen and Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority Director Noah Schwartz we have developed a plan to install two pilot
    rainwater harvesting systems. The funds will purchase three rain-barrels – two at Friendship Court and one for the CRHA housing at 6th St. – and will irrigate their respective garden areas. ” Shall we start with “Are they producing $18k worth of produce?”

  67. Here’s nifty article in the Roanoke times about the creature in questions, the James Spiny Mussel.

    Personally, I feel that given the connection between filter feeders, like this mussel, and quality of our water, I think anything we do that impacts them needs to be a red flag. Good science will tell you that there are ecological limits on resources that can be used before severe consequnces start showing up. This is a very basic truth that I hope can be communicated to the BOS and the community at large before it’s too late.

    On a different note, my dad used to tell me how they once ate freshwater mussels. Now the combination of poor water quality and the decline of mussel species makes cultural traditions like that a thing of the past. I just can’t imagine eating a filter feeding animal out of the Rivanna or james nowadays. Freshwater pearl farming seems to be gaining in popularity though, but I’ve no idea if that can be done with all species or not.

    Speaking of filter feeders, I also saw some freshwater sponges this weekend. Even a biologist that works for the park service was suprised when I pointed those out. Pretty nifty critters that we’ve got in our rivers…

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