Loudoun board takes steps to consider partial funding of conservation easements

Loudoun board takes steps to consider partial funding of conservation easements
PURCELLVILLE—Preserving Loudoun County’s rural areas is at the heart of a recent move by county supervisors.

At its July 19 meeting, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors considered two agenda items related to financial assistance for landowners who want to place an easement on their property. The board voted unanimously to have county staff begin making recommendations for creating a $150,000 Conservation Easement Program. They also voted 5-4 to have staff create an overview of all land use and federal programs for a September board meeting.

The votes were in response to a proposal from Blue Ridge District Supervisor Tony R. Buffington that the county assist citizens with the cost of establishing conservation easements.

The easements are agreements between landowners and local government or nonprofit organizations to permanently limit development on a property. More than 65,000 acres in Loudoun currently are protected by conservation easements.

“This is a small project that sends a good message that the county’s serious” about preserving local farms and rural land, said Chris Van Vlack, a Loudoun hay producer. “I’m encouraged that it’s moving on, but our work isn’t over.”

Van Vlack is president of the Loudoun County Farm Bureau, one of several organizations that have formed the non-partisan alliance Save Rural Loudoun. He said the county’s farmers will need to emphasize to their elected officials the financial benefits of preserving rural land.

“You spend $150,000 here, and you’re going to save millions in capital costs for schools and roads and things that you have to build otherwise” to support residential and commercial development.

Loudoun’s Conservation Easement Stewardship Program, under which landowners could sell rights to develop their property to the county, was defunded in 2004.

Costs associated with putting a conservation easement in place include appraisals and financial and legal services. Buffington proposed creating a $150,000 fund from the county’s year-end budget balance to cover up to 50 percent or $15,000, whichever is less, for a property owner putting land into a conservation easement administered by a qualified organization

Loudoun is roughly half rural, with more than 1,400 farms on 134,000 acres that generate more than $37 million annually. The county has lost 72,000 acres of farmland in the past 30 years. Since 2010, Loudoun’s population has increased 27 percent, to more than 380,000.

Media: Contact Van Vlack at 703-801-6816 or Pam Wiley, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1128.

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