TDRs: A program for the benefit of farmers

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By David Lowry

    The Bedford farming community is missing out on a great opportunity of support.
    With its current rezoning proposal under consideration, the Bedford Board of Supervisors have an opportunity to benefit the farming community by adding to its proposed changes to zoning the option that would allow farmers to sell the development rights associated with their land without selling their land. The buyer is someone in need of increased density development rights elsewhere in the county. The program is called Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) and is authorized under Virginia Law (Virginia Code Section 15.2-2316.1 and .2). This kind of transaction presents a win-win option for farmers, developers and Bedford County.
    Some members of the Board of Supervisors have expressed reservation about TDRs, arguing Bedford cannot afford it and/or that it constitutes a form of big government “taking.” Those members confuse TDR’s with PDR’s which do involve government funding. A TDR program is limited to private transactions, between a willing seller (e.g., the farmer) and a willing buyer (e.g., a developer), without expenditure of government funds. In noting the distinction, between voluntary private based TDRs and government backed acquisitions, even conservative Justice Antonin Scalia gave praise to TDR programs as a valuable tool for land preservation (Suitum Vs. Tahoe Regional Planning Association).
    Members of the Board of Supervisors who hold concerns about TDRs, particularly that they may threaten property rights or expand government budgets and taking powers, should examine the program more closely. They will find that TDR programs can expand and protect property rights and provide an option for land owners to cash in on the value of the land they intend to keep for farming and/or in open space.
    The Commonwealth and legal experts have completed the groundwork for localities to initiate their individual TDR program. In Bedford, everything is ready, save that of addressing the concerns of a few members of the Board of Supervisors who, honorably though mistakenly, believe that this must be a costly program of big government infringing on the rights of land owners. They should read the material that is readily available on the Internet, beginning with the piece titled “Transfer of Development Rights Program, Using the Market for Development and Compensation” and another titled “A Model Transfer of Development Rights Ordinance for Virginia Localities”).
    Additional references may be accessed through the Web site of Bedford Above Board ( Bedfordaboveboard.com ).
    Other counties of Virginia and elsewhere have adopted the program of TDRs (Loudon, Arlington, James City County, Montgomery Md.). Those members of the Board of Supervisors who oppose or have reservations concerning these programs should confirm their understanding of what the program is and what it is not. They should also contact those counties who have adopted the programs to learn more.
    Bedford County, in general, and Bedford farmers and developers, in particular, deserve more.