Tomorrow is decision day in Stafford County. Will the Board of Supervisors adopt a unilateral downzoning changing the minimum lot size from 3-acres to 10-acres? FAAR has been strongly opposed to this action for more than a year because it could devalue rural land, potentially by up to 50% according to the County itself, and will rob generations of wealth creation from rural property owners. A recent article in the Free Lance Star included some comments about the action that are inaccurate and unfair to Realtors and the work that they do. FAAR sets the record straight below:
- Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer claims that builders are flocking to Stafford County and creating an explosion of growth due to more permissive zoning rules than surrounding counties. The truth is that there were LESS occupancy permits issued in 2020 than in 2019. Stafford County issued 946 occupancy permits in 2019 compared to 875 in 2020, representing a 7.5% DECLINE.
- Supervisor Dudenhefer says that downzoning is the only option the state provides to manage growth, but he fails to mention that his County’s own Healthy Growth report looked at downzoning coupled with Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) to help make landowners’ whole after their land was devalued. TDR is permissible under state law but is not part of this action at all, providing no financial remedy for those whose property value could be taken by the local government. In addition, the Planning Commission is opposed to a unilateral downzoning and presented three other options to the Board for consideration. In order for the Board to consider those other options, they must vote no on downzoning.
- He also states that anyone who dare speak out in opposition or voice concerns about this action is only acting out of financially motivated self-interest. The Code of Ethics by which Realtors® are bound holds their duty to their client and all parties to the contract as their primary responsibility. Furthermore, a property owner is certainly expected to have a financial interest in their own land, especially when the value of that land is often inextricably tied to the financial health of that individual.
- Finally, Supervisor Dudenhefer tries to pit north Stafford residents against south Stafford residents by claiming that properties in the A-1 hardly pay any taxes because they are in the land use program. The Board’s own agenda for their March 2 meeting states that of the 2,321 taxable parcels impacted by downzoning, just 854 are in the land use program, meaning that more than 60% of property owners in the A-1 zoning category pay their full taxes. For those who have their property in the Land Use program, it is not a free pass. Those properties have their taxes deferred for their time in the program and when a property exits the program, the owner must pay 5 years of deferred taxes and a percentage charge on top of that. While the property is in land use, the owner pays full taxes on a 1-acre homesite and the value of the structure. In addition, the more rural parts of the County have long subsidized growth in other parts of the County, namely the Rt. 610 corridor where Mr. Dudenhefer represents.
FAAR Board Member Clay Murray said in a letter to the editor published on Sunday that as a Realtor® and a citizen of Stafford County, he wants “smart growth, housing affordability, and the protection of private property rights.” Murray doesn’t think those ideals have to be mutually exclusive. There are other options out there that can address growth challenges without decimating the financial health of rural property owners and their families.