Open Space, Conservation Easements and Land Acquisition in Prince William County
Are growth and the wise stewardship of land mutually exclusive activities? A growing number of studies, from groups ranging from the National Association of Realtors to the Trust for Public Land, show the public values both and believes both are attainable.
Responsibilities for land use choices focus at the local level and citizens nationwide are discovering that public involvement is the key to open space protection. However, it's one thing to believe and quite another to achieve.
Although the Prince William County Comprehensive Plan goals include a focus on making sure a minimum of 39% of the county's total land area will be maintained as open space over time, the plan largely relies on state and federally owned parks and the Rural Crescent 's large lot development to protect important natural and cultural resources.
Land conservation safeguards our environmental resources and natural landscapes… and enhances the quality of life for all residents. Everyone benefits.
Prince William Supervisors recognized these values when they voted to establish high standards for open space preservation in 2008. And the current update of the Environment Chapter offers opportunities to build a foundation for activities that result in real gains to the County’s network of protected open space. Without on-the-ground efforts to conserve natural resources, words alone do little to protect our forests, wetlands, wildlife and wildflowers
During the past four years, Virginia conserved 400,000 acres of land. To the best of our knowledge, only 302 of these acres were in Prince William County, contributed by the conservation of Merrimac Farm, which protects our public drinking water supply and provides local residents with a high quality site for hunting, fishing and wildlife watching.
Governor McDonnell has made the conservation of an additional 400,000 acres a priority of his administration. We believe that support for the Governors initiative will benefit all Prince William communities.
Studies verify that land values are reduced over time when open space is created by large-lot zoning. On the other hand, open space created and permanently protected through the purchase of development rights or conservancy zoning increases property values.
In Maryland, land use restrictions intended to protect the Chesapeake Bay have resulted in increases of 14 to 27% to housing prices within 1000 feet of the protected waterways, and a 4 to 11% increase for houses up to three miles away. A Colorado study found a 32% increase in value for properties adjacent to trails and stream corridors.
The Trust for Public Land reports that 16% of Denver residents said they would pay more to live near a greenbelt or park in 1980, compared to 48% in 1990. And National Association of Realtors studies continue to show that homebuyers top priorities include price, square footage and nearby open space. Nearby open space increases the value of home.
Prince William's current land use rules are geared toward the systematic conversion of virtually all land that is dry and flood-free into developed properties. Over the long run, the communities that evolve from this approach will be less attractive places to live and experience declines in property values.
Practical alternatives exist and localities throughout Virginia are actively exploring opportunities. After 50 years of rapid development in Prince William, our population continues to grow and land is becoming an increasingly valuable commodity. The window is closing for Prince William. Will we have the foresight to secure open space before development pressures escalate costs to levels where open space preservation is virtually impossible?