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Prince William County supervisors will soon review a proposal to create several programs focused on preserving rural space and targeting future development.

During its March 17 meeting, the Planning Commission discussed a proposal to create programs focused on the purchase and transfer of development rights in conjunction with a plan for the county’s rural area.

The purchasing program would allow landowners in the rural area to sell their right to certain uses of their land to the county, essentially locking their property into a rural use.

County planner Alex Stanley said eligible properties would have to be at least 20 acres. Landowners would offer their rights to the county, but the Board of Supervisors would have the final say on whether to purchase them. Stanley said about 15.4% of the rural area, or about 18,000 acres, meets the eligibility requirements.

Stanley provided examples of other localities that have similar programs. Of those presented, Fauquier County had preserved the most land at 4,013 acres at a total cost of $4.95 million. The funding came from a mix of local, state and other sources.

The commission unanimously recommended approval of the purchasing program but cautioned that funding could be a major hurdle.

The transfer program would encourage private investment to preserve rural areas by allowing developers, rather than the county, to purchase development rights from rural landowners.

The landowners’ property would remain rural, and developers could transfer the development rights to six designated “receiving” areas – two in the rural area and four in the development area. The receiving areas would get additional perks like higher density in return for preserving the rural parcels.

The rural receiving areas are in Nokesville and north of Doves Landing. The development areas are near Virginia Gateway, Innovation Park, Potomac Shores and Potomac Mills.

The more complicated transfer program was presented in conjunction with a plan to create a “conservation residential” zoning designation in the rural receiving areas with higher density, but more required open space.

The commission voted 7-1, with Potomac Commissioner Juan McPhail dissenting, to recommend denial of the transfer program and the rural plan.

Those opposed felt the program was too complex and contradictory by still encouraging development in some parts of the rural area.

Several people spoke in favor of the programs during the hearing on the three proposals.

“We need to look at putting all of the tools in the toolbox,” said Jay Yankey, who owns Yankey Farms. “We don’t need to limit ourselves to simply one program.”

Nolan Stout covers Prince William County. Reach him at nstout@insidenova.com or @TheNolanStout on Facebook and Twitter.

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