The Stafford County Board of Supervisors is anticipated to consider downzoning properties in the A-1 zoning category. Under current regulations, landowners are permitted to subdivide their acreage into minimum lot sizes of 1 home per 3 acres. The Board is looking to significantly increase that minimum lot size with the potential to change it to as much as 1 home per 10 acres.
For example, if you own 25 acres in the A-1 zoning category, you can subdivide that land into 8 lots right now. If downzoning went into effect at a 10-acre minimum, you would only get 2 lots.
Why should I be concerned?
FAAR is a staunch defender of private property rights and commends Stafford County for its long history of cultivating a culture that encourages strong economic growth through reasonable zoning restrictions. Discussions of downzoning thousands of properties throughout the County runs counter to that long history.
FAAR is specifically concerned about what impact downzoning will have on the value of rural properties and property owners’ ability to do as they see fit with their land. Many rural landowners have developed long-term retirement plans that involved the value of their properties under current uses and acreage rules. Efforts to downzone could erase decades worth of wealth creation that cannot be recovered. In addition, many landowners intended to utilize family subdivisions to provide a legacy for their children and grandchildren, which they may not be able to realize if their land is unilaterally downzoned.
In 2019, Stafford County conducted a series of public meetings centered around the topic of “healthy growth” and reducing new home construction in rural areas. This Healthy Growth Initiative brought together stakeholders from across the county to discuss challenges with growth and development and find ways to channel growth into Targeted Growth Areas while not impacting taxation. A consultant to the County collected public input and put forward a series of potential strategies for the County to consider.
At a retreat for the Board of Supervisors in early 2020, the Board directed the staff to look at the impact on development of three options for downzoning in the rural areas outside of the Urban Services Area:
- No change, retain 3 acres per dwelling unit
- Increase to a minimum lot size of 1 home per 6 acres
- Increase to a minimum lot size of 1 home per 10 acres
There was discussion as part of the Healthy Growth Initiative that downzoning coupled with an expansion of a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program would keep rural landowners whole financially by allowing them to transfer their current development rights to receiving areas in other parts of the county within the Urban Services Area. But the Board expressed concern about expanding TDR since construction in the receiving area would be by-right and not subject to Board approval and not have proffers associated with it. At this point, it’s not clear if TDR will go hand-in-hand with downzoning, leading to fears that downzoning would happen first and then TDR to follow so that landowners would in fact lose their development rights and be financially impacted.
Any downzoning changes will require a vote by the Board of Supervisors and will also require public hearings to gather input from those most impacted. If you are concerned about what downzoning will do to the value of your property, you will have the chance for your voice to be heard.
Stafford Board of Supervisors Actions
The Stafford County Board of Supervisors will host a joint public hearing on downzoning on Thursday, October 29 at 6:30pm at Colonial Forge High School. This is the meeting where the decision will be made so mark your calendars!
From the Stafford County website:
The joint public hearing will be held on Thursday, October 29, 2020, at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Colonial Forge High School, 550 Courthouse Road, Stafford, Virginia. All parties are invited to appear and state their views. The auditorium will accommodate 65 individuals with minimal overflow seating in the cafeteria next to the auditorium. In-person speakers will receive a number and will listen for their number to be called up. The meeting will adhere to all required Coronavirus protocols such as social distancing and face coverings. Public hearing comments are also being accepted online by visiting www.staffordcountyva.gov/publichearings; please provide comments before 4:30 p.m. on October 28. The meeting will be streamed online via www.staffordcountyva.gov and viewable on Facebook Live and cable access channels. The proposed amendments and Q&As are also available online at https://staffordcountyva.gov/2181/Healthy-Growth-Initiative.
UPDATE ON BOARD ACTION TAKEN ON OCTOBER 29, 2020: The Board voted 4-3 to defer action on a 10-acre downzoning until their Tuesday, December 15 meeting to allow more time for staff and Supervisors to work out a compromise that will be less onerous for rural landowners. FAAR will be a strong voice to protect family subdivisions and the value of rural land, especially for those with smaller parcels.
Downzoning on the agenda for Tuesday, September 1, 2020 at 3:00pm! The Stafford Board of Supervisors will consider moving ahead with a joint public hearing with the Planning Commission to consider downzoning. Access the Board agenda by clicking here.
UPDATE ON BOARD ACTIONS TAKEN ON SEPTEMBER 1: The Board approved on a 5-2 vote moving ahead with a joint public hearing with the Planning Commission. The approach they adopted proposes a unilateral downzoning of all A-1 land to a minimum lot size of 10 acres per parcel, up from 3 acres per parcel. The Board has the authority to adopt a lower minimum lot size, but cannot go any higher than 10 acres and cannot consider any alternative proposals. The next step is for the County staff to select a date, secure an alternate location to accommodate physical distancing, ensure the Planning Commission can have a quorum present, and provide a 30-day notice to property owners. It is anticipated this meeting will take place in mid-October and will be held as a stand-alone meeting with no other Board business being conducted. Watch the Board discussion from the meeting by clicking here.
If you are opposed to downzoning, use FAAR’s sample letter below to send a message to the Board of Supervisors alerting them to your concerns.
Stafford Board Member Contact Information
Want to get involved and let your voice be heard? Then use our sample letter to the right and send your elected officials an email! Simply copy and paste the text into your email message and be sure to fill out the red text with specific information.
Supervisor Meg Bohmke, Falmouth District
Supervisor Tom Coen, George Washington District
Supervisor Cindy Shelton, Aquia Distsrict
Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer, Garrisonville District
Supervisor Tinesha Allen, Griffis-Widewater District
Supervisor Gary Snellings, Hartwood District
Supervisor Crystal Vanuch, Rock Hill District