approves Transfer of
Development Rights ordinance; only Gary Snellings (R-Hartwood) follows
Save Crow's Nest recommendation to deny
February 24th the Board of Supervisors voted to approve the
Transfer of Development Rights ordinance (6-1 in favor) and a
Comprehensive Plan amendment (4-3 in favor), which was needed to support
the TDR ordinance. You can read the Free
Lance-Star story here
(subscription required for more than 10 views per month). Save
Crow’s Nest has supported the idea of a Transfer of Development Rights
but opposed this version of the TDR. (Thank
you to Supervisor Gary Snellings, R-Hartwood, the lone vote against the
What does the TDR mean
for Crow's Nest?
What is a TDR plan? The idea behind a Transfer
of Development Rights plan is relatively simple: a property owner
voluntarily agrees to move their “right” to build a house from one
place (thereby preserving open space in this “sending” area) to
another place (a “receiving” area, where more dense development is
slated to be channeled). Ideally, this allows development to occur
in places where transportation and infrastructure are in place to better
support it, while preserving the rural quality of some areas. It
also compensates property owners for the value of their “by-right”
Where are the “sending” and “receiving” areas in this TDR?
While it may eventually be expanded to other parts of the County, the
current TDR is a pilot program with a large
“sending” area east to the CSX railroad line and on the Crow’s Nest
peninsula and Marlborough Point. The “receiving” area is
in the Courthouse area (where the TDR’s chief
proponent and developer, Supervisor Paul Mile (R-Aquia), owns property
that may directly benefit from the TDR.)
Will the County own the properties that participate in the TDR?
No. TDR’s only shift the development
rights associated with a property, not the actual ownership of the
property. TDR participants will still own
their property but will now have deed restrictions on what they can do
with it. Most importantly, new residential development will not be
allowed, although in some instances large buildings may still be added to
Does this mean Crow’s Nest is finally saved? No. Even the TDR’s
chief proponent acknowledges, "It’s not a save-all.” In the
best case scenario, this legislation could be a tool to help in the effort
to permanently protect all of Crow’s Nest from development. But we are
still far from that goal. At a minimum, reaching it will require
good-faith efforts on the part of all the landowners in Crow’s Nest.
While we want to be optimistic, there are plenty of reasons to be cautious
about where this may be heading.
So what are the problems with
As Save Crow’s Nest has pointed out at the numerous public hearings on
the TDR, there are many “loopholes” and
problems in the TDR legislation, including the
High Impact Activities Are Allowed. The TDR
legislation allows high impact activities, such as farming and camping, on
land placed in the TDR program. In fact, until
last night, logging would have been allowed, too. In a small
victory, at the last moment, the Board removed logging from uses allowed
on land placed in the TDR. However, there is no
protection against a landowner logging their property before they place it
in the TDR program, a loophole that could
potentially accelerate the destruction of some properties on Crow’s
A Possible Patchwork Could Emerge. As passed by the Board,
the TDR allows the Crow’s Nest Harbour corporate
owners to keep the best lots for development, and place the rest in TDR,
destroying the chance to permanently save the entire peninsula. We
could see, for example, large estate homes built on Crow’s Nest for the
wealthy with the selling point of being located amidst some land that will
not be developed. In a worst-case scenario, this sort of patchwork
could actually create more incentives for developers to pursue building
and speed up the destruction of Crow’s Nest.
Voluntary Participation is Unclear. It is unclear if the
corporate investors who own most of the lots on Crow’s Nest even want to
participate in the TDR program, given the way it
is now structured. At last night’s public hearing, an attorney
representing the two corporate owners of the majority of the lots in
Crow’s Nest Harbour clearly stated that the TDR
as passed poses significant problems for his clients. For example,
many of the properties on Crow’s Nest feature steep slopes or hydric
soil (ground that is saturated by water), which would be excluded from the
TDR formulas because they are unbuildable.
(Planning Commissioner Steve Apicella introduced this provision.) Property
owners want such land to “count” in figuring how many development
rights they have. Such differences could prevent broad
the map to the left, the area in red is the area, including Crow's Nest
Harbour, that has not been included in previous purchases. (Parcel
"A" in green is the first purchase completed in 2008 and Parcel "B"
in yellow is the Phase 2 purchase completed in 2009.) The map from the TDR
ordinance, on the right, shows the Crow's Nest Harbour lots. The lots shaded in green
may not be eligible for the TDR program.
What does this
mean for Stafford County?
Regardless of whether or not the TDR helps to save
Crow’s Nest, the program raises significant concerns for citizens and
Much of the TDR program is hidden from public
view or participation. The program will allow what are
essentially high density re-zonings to take place in the Courthouse area
without any notice, public hearings, or control by the Board. There is no
public way to track which land is placed in the TDR,
and what land in the Courthouse area will have increased density. And
unlike all other major land use requests in the County, corporate owners
of land do not have to disclose individual investors when they submit a TDR
Taxpayers will pay the hidden costs. With more development,
taxpayers will have to pay to fix the traffic problems created by the
increased density in Courthouse, as well as fund the additional schools
and other government services that will be needed. Many of the lots
in Crow’s Nest Harbour may not be buildable but if these receive credit
in the TDR program, unbuildable lots could be
converted into profitable development rights with no proffers attached,
making the situation even worse. (Proffers are the financial
contributions developers offer up to help defray infrastructure costs when
seeking a rezoning or approval for development.)
Only time will tell if the TDR really does help
“save” Crow’s Nest, or if it is simply another taxpayer subsidized
giveaway to real estate speculators and developers. Again, we want
to be optimistic, but history and common sense tells us that there are
plenty of reasons to be wary and watchful.
What is next for
The TDR becomes effective in 60 days. In the
meantime, County staff will prepare and staff the application
process. While this occurs, a number of related issues are
How will the $2 million be used? The County is holding nearly
$2 million for the construction of roads and public water and sewer in and
to Crow’s Nest Harbour The court order about this money states that if a
developer has not used this money by March
15, 2015 to construct all of the roads in the Harbour, and provide
all of the lots with water and sewer, then the Board of Supervisors must
enter into a contract within twelve months to complete as much
construction of roads and/or water and sewer as the $2 million will allow.
That money could be used to construct the road to the current Crow’s
Nest Natural Area—the only thing currently preventing regular public
access from the Natural Area. However, the intent of the Board is
unknown at this time. Will they use the $2 million to benefit Crow’s
Nest, or give it away to a developer? We don’t know.
What will happen with the lawsuits? One of the ways
well-financed developers get their way is to threaten to sue the
County. There are numerous lawsuits about Crow’s Nest Harbour in
process. Given that the major landowners of Crow’s Nest Harbour have
indicated that the TDR as passed does not work for
them, the ultimate fate of Crow’s Nest Harbour may rest on the outcome
of these court cases.
How will the TDR be implemented?
There are many details to be worked out in the implementation of the TDR,
some of which could affect if and how the program works. Much of
this will occur out of public view, giving us reason to be cautious.
Preservation of Crow’s Nest
in 2003, the organizing efforts of supporters of Save Crow’s Nest helped
to stop proposed development on the 4,000-acre peninsula and served as a
catalyst for renewed efforts to purchase and preserve the land.
effort to assemble funds to save Crow’s Nest was propelled forward when
Governor Tim Kaine launched his “Renew Virginia” initiative. The
purchase of approximately 2,800 acres on Crow’s Nest became a part of
this initiative, becoming the Crow's
Nest Natural Area Preserve.
of acres on Crow's Nest remain vulnerable to development, including more
than 1,000 acres associated with the Crow's Nest Harbour subdivision.
couple of years we are contacted by folks
asking about claims being made—especially in the Aquia District where
Crow’s Nest is located. Since some voters seem to believe these claims
are being made in the name of Save Crow’s Nest, we have issued this clarification
in the form of several questions and answers.
Crow’s Nest remains non-partisan, supporting any and all efforts to save
all of Crow’s Nest in a fiscally responsible manner.