This article is about the tools Virginia has for preserving undeveloped land. The existing tools are zoning, use value assessment, purchased development rights (PDR), tax credits for conservation easements, and private easements and gifts. Rephann, a regional economist at the Cooper Center, provides a detailed explanation of the existing tools and information on their use. However, with rural open space losses mounting and land protection program costs increasing, interest has grown in transfer of development rights (TDR), a tool that has been used at times in some other states that allows landowners to trade their development rights to others.
TDR is an infrequently tried program but "at first glance it appears to be a promising and painless tool for localities to use in addressing or fortifying their open space needs," Rephann writes. It provides permanent protection. Public outlays are much lower than for simple fee purchase and purchase of development rights. In such a program, development rights are severed from a land parcel and traded in a private market for use on another parcel of land. It is common for communities to designate an area to be protected (a "sending area") and an area where additional growth is desired (a "receiving area")> Transfers of development rights occur between these two areas. individual programs vary widely in design and mechanics across localities, but the ultimate goal is to stimulate enough transactions to achieve land preservation objectives in the sending area.
The current construction downturn, devastating for Virginia building trades, may have one potential upside: It offers a chance for policymakers to re-think and sharpen the preservation tools used to guide future development and protect the state's increasingly threatened natural landscape.