[Market-farming] question about zoning

Robert Farr rbfarr at erols.com
Sun Nov 2 09:29:10 EST 2003


What is the housing density under "agricultural" zoning?

In Loudoun County, VA, where I live, we've recently been able to
overturn the A-3 residential zoning promoted by previous boards of
supervisors (often for the enrichment of their friends and business
associates), and much of the western end of the county is now zoned
A-10.  That is, we moved from one house per 3 acres to one house per 10
acres.  In other parts of the county, where there is more open space,
the zoning has been made A-50.  In the towns, though, development is
continuing apace - at a usual density of one house per 1/6 or 1/4 acre.

I'm in favor of the new zoning for several reasons:

1.  Developed land costs money.  Open space costs 20 cents per tax
dollar; developed land costs $1.50 per tax dollar.  That means all
taxpayers are footing the bill for new residents - which is hardly fair
(of course, developers should be paying for the new infrastructure costs
- roads, schools, etc. - but that's another conversation!).

2.  Open space preserves the community's quality of life.  Many of us
moved here to escape crowded roads and overcrowded communities, and the
degradation that comes with more people (lights, new infrastructure,
crime, etc.).

3.  Carrying capacity.  Are there actually enough natural resources to
support new developments?  During the drought of the last few years, the
answer was painfully apparent:  no.  My well pressure dropped by more
than 30%.  Often, it was the new developments that were using *my*
water.  This was not a sustainable solution.

The point is, zoning needs to benefit the community as a whole - that
is, the community currently in residence.  This represents what I call
building a Sustainable Community, where the community comes first and
the environment gets a voice.

Community responsibility must supercede that of the individual.  If not,
we'll end up living in a nation where "me first" represents community
planning of the worst sort, and our sprawl extends from coast to coast.
(It may not be quite anarchy, but it's certainly nihilistic.)

Regarding the question of profitability - the reason many in the Loudoun
community want to preserve their "property rights" (translated - my
right to develop my property at the expense of the greater good) - we
need to take a hard look at the numbers.  I have a neighbor who is
developing under A-3 (one house per three acres).  He stands to make
between $12 and $15M (and he's a retired doctor, to boot).  If he
developed under A-10 (one house per 10 acres), he'd still walk away with
at least $4M.  It seems to me that $4M is a pretty penny - and for a man
in his 70s, at that.

The truth is, the "property rights" folks are, entirely selfishly,
clamoring for obscene profits.  This is akin to CEOs in big corporations
being paid multiple tens of millions (the fellow who was just fired from
his job atop the NY Stock Exchange had a compensation package of
$140M).  Isn't it enough to receive fair compensation (for either land
or employment)?  Does everyone deserve to become royalty?

These are questions that we as a society must address - as a society.
Only then can we steer the development debate in the direction of
sustainability.

So - back to the original question - how much money could be made from a
148-acre parcel of land if it is developed under agricultural
guidelines?  It may be that the profits still end up being fair and
just.  (On the other hand, it may be that rich landholders are trying to
squeeze smaller landholders so that they can preserve their viewshed
(again, looking out for themselves and not caring about the greater
community).  That issue must also be examined prior to new zoning taking
place.)

Obviously, there are many issues here.  Hopefully, community -
Sustainable Community - can be a guide.

I'm sure I can get a copy of the new Loudoun County Comprehensive Plan,
should anyone be interested.

Good luck, Christianne!

--
Robert Farr
The Chile Man
(540) 668-7160

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