Tulloch the Tool, Staton the Savior?

By Loudoun Insider

Bruce Tulloch continues to get hammered in the press for his apparent waffling on growth issues and conniving as discussed here in Leesburg Today and also today at the WaPo (I’m not linking to the WaPo with all their ridiculous sign in rules). It’s very interesting that the WaPo switched its file photos for Tulloch in its last two articles. The first looked like a mug shot while the last is much more appealing (as appealing as he may be)! If anyone can uplink them in the comments for an A/B it would be quite fascinating for the readers.

Now Mick Staton comes in asking for a special meeting of the Board of Supervisors to take action within the next week on the rural zoning matter delayed by the Planning Commission as discussed here in Leesburg Today. Even though Staton disagrees with the rural zoning plan, he wants to get the vote over and move on to other pressing county business. Bravo!Â


Comments

  • Dean Settle says:

    What is he proposing? I’d not heard this.
    Short of asking Whitmore for her resignation, I don’t see the logic.

  • Tax Man Coming says:

    The heat must be on within his district and the LCRC and the builders, the people (Loudoun taxpayer) are sick and tired of this and do not want to pay anymore for development.

    Staton has realized the builders have lost and won this one and take the 28,000 homes, an additional 16,000 homes with this rezoning when compared to the one that was passed 4 years ago. I think they have stuck it to the taxpayer of Loudoun and it is time to take the vote.

    Tulloch, he talks out of both sides of his mouth. Tells the press the planning commission is doing the wrong thing then goes and eats with the enemy (Dale Polen Myers — aka I have my millions $$$).

  • Not Jack Herrity says:

    Every week this drags out is one week closer to the election. Staton’s positions on growth may be out of line with his district, but he’s no dummy. He sees the train wreck that Bruce Tulloch apparently can’t.

    NJH

  • sibyl says says:

    Call me crazy, but just hear me out:

    Regarding Tulloch/Myers: Don’t totally rule out the idea that Dale could have planted those articles herself. She needs to assure GV and the others that she is still in control, and both articles exemplified that beautifully. Even throwing Tulloch under the bus for a little spanking isn’t beyond her.

    I may be an armchair psychologist, but one could argue that all the negativity helps re-solidify the odd relationship between them that had become a little frayed. Insecure Bruce needs her now more than ever, i.e. “her brilliant polical mind is the only thing that can save me now, I dont have any other friends, boo, hoo.”

    Regarding Mick’s request: this throws a big funny wrench in DPM’s plan. Mick and Bruce see themselves as competitors to a great degree and Mick would like nothing more than to get the upperhand and force Tullochs vote here and now. He knows that DPM is on vacation right now it works beautifully for him (FYI: Mick and DPM are NOT friends). Mick is voting NO regardless and the votes are there to pass it, so why not take the opportunity to take a little revenge on traitor-Bruce and knock DPM down a few pegs in the eyes of the developers at the same time.

    Side note: Mick doesnt really care about how the zoning matter actually turns out, he just cares about establishing himself as voting NO in order to secure future campaign dollars.

  • Not Jack Herrity says:

    Sibyl is correct about Staton’s vote. I think he knows which way the wind is blowing on this one and he wants to get it over with.

    NJH

  • Apparently no one has jumped on his bandwagon yet, but I definitely think someone should. There may be some consternation that the votes aren’t there to pass it at the board. Would Tulloch vote against it at this point if he feels he has been rebuked?

    Jim Clem appears to be the big swing vote at this time. After moving the plan with his name on it forward, all of a sudden he is hesitant to vote on it and was the only one who raised his hand when the supervisors were asked by a citizen “who up there hasn’t made up their mind yet on how they’re going to vote”. There is speculation that he is pushing for some delay to allow friends the opportunity to get full vesting under state standards.

  • Ben Dover says:

    I was just over at Leesburg Today and read that Larry Beerman has resigned his post on the Planning Commission. I went on to read that to replace Beerman, Steve Snow is going to nominate…. nominate…… nominate (Do you feel the suspense building?)…nominate none other than:

    Barbara Munsey

    If I didn’t read it with my own eyes, I simply wouldn’t have thought it even remotely within the most bizarre, the most surreal, the most preposterous realm of possibilities. Barbara Munsey??? Words escape me. I have no doubt that Ms. Munsey is a nice person, but she is so completely, utterly, and totally out of step with the views of voters in the Dulles District, that this move would not make the Planning Commission a more collaborative body, but would make it more disfunctional than it is presently.

    Barbara Munsey?? Unbelievable.

  • Bendover, Mr. Dover! For those that don’t know her, Barbara Munsey is part of the CPR property rights crowd in the LCRC who has yet to see a development she didn’t love. She’s a frequent speaker before the board and commenter on the local newspaper websites. She is very inflammatory and would certainly make the Planning Commission more dysfunctional than it already is. Her nomination should not be approved by the full board.

  • anon-8 says:

    Id like someone to check her tax returns, theres been numerous folks speculating that she has been on the Greenvest dole for years now. You’ve got to admit that her efforts are a lot of work for a committed stay-at-home mom, x-professional ball-room dancer, to spend working on local builder issues “for free.” Hum?

  • Not Jack Herrity says:

    I’ve said it for four years now. Steve Snow does not want to get re-elected. That can be the only reason he continues to make such stupid decisions.

    NJH

  • Ray Hyde says:

    Say what you like about Barbara Munsey, and I’d agree she is sometimes over the top, but her comments in the paper are direct, accurate, to the point, and mostly correct, as far as I can tell. She seldom uses the platitudes and homilies that so often support the views of her opponents. It is interesting that PEC and the smart growth coalition spend millions to support advocacy by interested citizens, and yet Barbara Munsey is being attacked as being supported (possibly) by the enemy. I’m not sure I see all that big a difference.

    According to the perpetual drumroll played out at PEC their advocated positions are what the people want. Barbara Munsey represents an emabarassment to them because she shows that their position is not necessarily 100% correct.

    What is happening in Loudoun, and has happened is a complex story. Add up the value of all the property assessments in Eastern Loudoun and compare them to the vavlue of Western Loudoun. Did developers make a lot of money in Eastern Loudoun? Sure. But so did all the people who bought homes there. Despite the fact that there are thousands of homes unsold on the market there, assessments have risen for nearly everyone who bought property in Loudoun in the past ten years.

    But how do you capitalize on that growth in value? Somebody has to sell. Whether you call them speculators or simply recognize them as people who need to sell because conditions have changed makes no difference. At some point in time people will want to sell.

    On the other side of the fence are those who are presently comfortable, and who like the countryside as it is. They are highly offended if a neighbor wants to sell off a few lots. But someday, conditions will change. Either the land will simply become so valuable that they cannot afford to keep it, they will have some family emergency, and the time will come when they want to sell, too.

    I have a neighbor who tells me she hopes my farm won’t be broken up. I point out to her that her property was once part of the farm. Had it not been sold, or not allowed to have been sold, then neither one of us would be here today to have this discussion.

    Call Barbara Munsey a property rights activist if you like, but recognize that those who oppose her are anti property rights activists, and then ask yourself how much you want others telling you what to do. Because that what this boils down to. It isn’t a question of property rights so much as it is a question of who you work for.

    My experience is that if I want someone to do as I wish, I generally have to pay them. Now, I’m perfectly happy to keep my farm pristine and be in the business of providing scenery for my neighbors, but I need to have paying customers. This is what the anti-growth and conservation crowd doesn’t seem to understand. Conservation is not free. If you want your neighbors to conserve their property; if you want them to forgoe the value that it represents, no matter how badly the may need to convert that value to other purposes, then you should expect to pay them to do as you wish.

    You can beat up on the developers all you like, but at least the developers pay the landowners for what they get. When conservationists learn that trick then there will be a whole lot less controversy. Instead, every conservation measure is aimed at getting something for nothing. The whole concept of viewscape was invented as a means of claiming ownership over something that didn’t previously exist.

    Luray Caverns and Natural Bridge are private property, and if you want to see them, then you pay admission. But ethe anti-growth crowd wants to take control over all of western Loudoun and pay nothing in return. And the value of that control is indicated by the difference in total property value between Eastern and Western Loudoun.

    Western Loudoun has values that are not monetized, to be sure. There are values there that are extremely valuable and important to keep intact. But it cannot be done without money, lots of money. To those for whom money is no object, to those for whome their farm estate is a fraction of their worth, this isn’t an issue. But it may very well be a huge issue to their neighbors. For them, the farm needs to have either profits on its own, which is a near impossibility, or it needs to have a good off farm job that is within commuting reach. At some level, sprawl helps protect farmland, because the farther you go from the city the more open land is available, and the more jobs are within reach to help support it.

    The reason there is such controversy is that there is no balance, each side is taking a winner take all position amd the result will be that neither side gets what they want. A good example is what happens with building restrictions. Where in the old days an owner might split off a lot and self build a home, maybe for his own family, that option is now closed. That option might have provided enough income to keep the remainder of the farm afloat for twnty years, but now, the only people who can play the game are the big developers. In order to do a lot, you must do the entire farm. Maybe, if you are really lucky you can sell a lot, but the requirement is that it be much larger than you might have wished. That is exactly how my neighbor acquired her farmette.

    The result is that people look areound one day and the farm is gone, all at once. We have to stop this, they say, and they make more restrictions. This isn’t helping the guy that owns the farm, and so it is counterproductive.

    I don’t see this as a property rights issue. I see it as a question of how do we get what we need (housing, food, jobs, and transportation) as well as what we want (pleasant environment, habitat for the critters, clean air and water, open space to cleanse our souls, etc. etc.)

    You can have all the rural zoning plan you want, but if you don’t have a rural economic plan to support it, then it will fail. that is where Barbara falls off the wagon, as far as I’m concerned. She is apparently only in favor of development, because that is where the money is. That isn’t the optimum position, but it is more likely to succeed than arguing for something that you won’t pay for.

    Finally, there are those that say they don’t want to pay for development, who think that housing is tax negative and farms and business are tax positive.

    Nonsense. All those farms and businesses are run by someone who lives in a home. At the end of the day all the bills that get paid are paid by someone who lives in a home. That argument is an artifact of a certain method of accounting that has no connection to the real world over time. It is true that development may force a benefit on you that you don’t want. It may be the only way you can capitalize on the benefit is to sell out. But to claim that development is raising your taxes because it raises your assessment, and then to try to fight that process by limiting development (which also raises prices) is just lunacy. Its a circular dead end.

    A better idea is to simply recognize that someday you might be the one who needs to sell, and not support any regulations that will cause you to sell for less than the market will support. In the meantime, if you think that open space is mandatory, you should press your government to raise the taxes enough to buy it. That way you can enjoy it instead of paying an equal amount of money so that it can be someone’s tax supported private park.

    Both of those things are going to have to be paid for. And both of them are inimicable to the idea that 98% of the population is going to live on 3% of the land and take Metro everywhere they need to go.

    I lived in an area that went through this nonsense of 50 acre lots and lets prevent all development. It worked for a while. But every time a 250 acre farm became five 50-acre lots, the voting demographics changed. Land prices continued to go up, due to outside pressures. Eventually, people started thinking “Gee, 50 acres is a lot to keep up. I could be just as happy with ten, and I could get well.” Over time the rules were relaxed so you could have multiple homes on a lot, guest cottages, etc.

    In the end, all the angst and controversy over controlling development only screwed the original owners, some of whose families had been there for hundreds of years, and it was the second and third owners that made out. You can see this happening today in Eastern Loudoun, and even in Potomac.

  • Not Jack Herrity says:

    Ray, this is not about property rights. This is about how many houses you should be able to plop down on 20 or 50 acres in a rural area. You’ll still retain the same property rights everyone else has – you can develop the property in accordance with the Zoning Ordinance and the Comprehensive Plan.

    Everyone wants to paint this in terms of the Communists vs. the Capitalists, but it’s a much less noble debate than folks suggest. Most (but not all) of the “property rights” advocates, Ray included, stand to gain financially from higher densities in the west. But it sparks much less drama if it’s only an issue of planning and zoning and not the end of property rights as we know tham.

    NJH

  • That’s quite a mouthful, Mr. Hyde! I don’t have time to respond in detail, but you do make many good points. This is a very complicated issue. I still believe that Loudoun County is growing at an unsustainable pace, and I do believe that the PEC and others are cognizant of the need to foster a vibrant rural economy to help large farms stay productive.

    In a side note related to the post above this one, Mr. Hyde is a contributor to the always educational Bacons Rebellion. Expect more such substantive discussion on such issues over there. We’re usually a bit less cerebral here!

  • anon-8 says:

    So does anyone have the Beerman story?

  • The Voice says:

    Ray breezes right past the pointed fact that the difference in those Farm sales is a couple of million dollars difference under the two plans. Those that complain the loudest are the ones who now have to settle for $5 million instead of $8 million. At the root, it’s all about the greed. To further that, instead of selling off 20 acre plots to individual builders to develop under the new zoning, these farmers choose to sell off ALL of the property to ONE builder, who then turns around and gets cold feet. Despite years of being taught NOT to put all their “eggs” in one basket, when they see the dollar signs, that’s exactly what they do.

  • Nothing positive yet on any hidden motives behind Beerman’s resignation. More to come soon.

    UPDATE: Check post above for more on Beerman and Munsey.

  • The Voice says:

    I often wonder what Steve Snow was taught in OCS about morality and ethics. He seems to ignore both.

    Steve Snow wouldn’t know a conflict in interest if it slapped him across the back of his head.

  • Dean Settle says:

    Mr. Hyde,

    I am in a position to benefit greatly if I sold and divided my property. But I was taught to be mindful of everyone’s needs instead of my own. I cannot pass the costs of my windfall onto people who are paying too many taxes now, and still sleep at night.

  • Ray Hyde says:

    Mr. Settle,

    That is certainly your right and your privilege. It is one of the rights that comes with owning property: the right to keep it, and do absolutely nothing with it, the right to keep it and use it less gainfully than you might, the right to keep it and use it for something you do simply because you enjoy it. No one can order you to sell it. (Ordinarily, the Kelo case may change that.)

    One thing property rights does is make it clear what you own and what you don’t own. Without that, you cannot tell what your property is worth. You cannot offer it for sale with a clear agreement as to what transfers and what doesn’t, and the buyer cannot assess his offer properly because he can’t tell for sure what he is getting.

    Suppose you bought property in 1985 that was zoned, like every other property in the county at one house per three acres. In 1986 the county is downzoned and suddenly the value of the property you just bought and the building rights that came with it are suddenly diminished. I don’t suppose you would call that a windfall.

    You are assuming that if you were to subdivide your property and sell it that you would get a windfall. In fact, what you would get would be the fair market price that willing people will pay for such property in a hands off, arms length transaction. The reason they will do that is because one of their needs is a place to live and call home. What you call a windfall has no costs to anyone except those who willingly agree to pay the price.

    And you don’t have to accept the price, no one is forcing you to. But if you do accept, that isn’t a windfall, its a fair trade, by definition. What you are saying is that the price being offered is not high enough to allow you to make a sufficient contribution to the general good such that your conscience and sensibilities will be at peace. You are able to reject the price being offered because you are also in a position such that you do not need the money. From your position, the price does not match the benefits to you of not selling, and that is perfectly OK and fair.

    But if you do accept, then from that price you will have to subtract the costs for your surveyor, lawyer, real estate broker, and fees to the county. The person who buys your lot will likely have to provide a substantial proffer to offset some of the costs you mention, and he will take that into account when making his offer to you. The price you ultimately get already takes into account some of the costs you seem to think your windfall will cause.

    It is a widely held belief that if I build a house, then it somehow costs you money, because everyone knows that housing is tax negative. OK. Suppose we stop building houses. Do you think for a split second that won’t cost you money? Do you think homeless people have no costs paid for by those who are paying too many taxes. Do you think the cost of housing will go up if we stop building houses? Do you think the assessment and taxes will be far behind? The result of following that belief to its conclusion is not very attractive, so it is a good thing that the belief is false in its entirety.

    The same people who make that argument are fond of saying that farms pay three times as much in taxes as they get in services, therfore we have to keep our farms because they keep our taxes low. The obvious mistake is that this policy does not keep your taxes low if you own a farm. they are not “our” farms, and calling them our farms, is a first step in blurring what the property rights are. You are already paying more than your fair share, and have been paying it for years, maybe generations. How then, is it a windfall when you finally take back some of what you have been overpaying for years? If we really want to save “our” farms, then why in God’s name are we overtaxing them by 300%?

    Obviously, that argument is just as off center as the other. This isn’t about tax positive and tax negative, it’s about tax inequity. We have as system wherby farms and businesses pay more than their share of tax and houses pay less than their share, by some measure of allocation. That measure is arbitrary to begin with, but the fact reamins that business needs workers and workers need homes, so we let business subsidize the taxes for homeowners. That subsidy is a business expense for the businesses, and it makes housing more affordable to us with out sowing up in our income on which we get taxed.

    We set this system up for a reason. To now claim that homes some how cost us money is utterly ridiculous. One way or another, the bills get paid, and paid by someone who lives in a house. We may have neighbors who think our good fortune comes at their expense, but it is simply not so, however much they protest.

    So, no one can twll you to sell your property, and if you do you are unlikely to get a windfall. You are likely to get an agreed price. Now, maybe your neighbor next door is one who belives your good fortune is going to come at his expense. He does not want to see your property subdivided, so what he does is offer you a price above the market price, which also does not require you to go to the trouble and expense of subdividing. In that case you really would have a windfall and your good fortune would come at his expense. And you would not have passed the supposed costs on to others so you can sleep at night.

    If you can find a place to sleep, after you sell yours.

    This is why I say that conservation is so expensive. You are willing to pay those costs yourself and keep your land. No one can force you to sell. But the rich neighbor willing to pay a premium is a scarce and small market to sell to. More likely your neighbor will be down at the county board agitating for rules to make your property difficult to sell. No one can force you to sell your property, but what we do have is a developing situation wherein any body and everybody can force you to sell your property only in certain ways.

    Well, forcing you to sell property under their rules and forcing you to sell it are not so different, are they? How can you say that you own it, if you are not allowed to sell it? Do you own your property if you have to divide your “windfall” with everyone else? If everyone else wants and deserves a say (and a share) in how your property is disposed of, then shouldn’t they be paying you for their partial ownership? Shouldn’t they be paying you to retain the land for them, or under their terms, rather than having you paying them 300% of what it costs them to have you as a neighbor?

    If they really want to control your land, then why not buy it like the rich hypothetical neighbor? Ahh, there’s the rub. If they have to pay for it, then it’s suddenly not worth the price.

    I don’t see it as a question of property rights, I see it as people telling other people what to do, and not paying them to do it. That is slavery. If I don’t have the right to sell my own labor on the open market, If I don’t have the right to decide what labor to do that will sell at the best price I can get, then I have given up the most basic property right of all, myself.

    Believe me Mr. Settle, I feel the same way about my land as you do. But as a conservationist, I also believe there is something seriously upside down about how we are going about it. Confiscatory conservationism is going to run head long into property rights and bite us in the behind. We won’t know which way to jump, and the recent pendulum swings in Loudoun County are symptoms of the problem.

    I support your right to keep your property, but in order to make that meaningful I must also support your right to sell. I’d even support rules that say you must do certain things, but then I’d have to expect to pay a fair rate for you to do them, otherwise I’d either be a thief or a slaveowner.

  • Ray Hyde says:

    To The Voice.

    You are right in concept but wrong in numbers. It could just as easily be $3 million vs $33 million. Typically you cannot sell just one lot, because of the subdivision rules. The process is so complex and expensive that you MUST sell all the lots because one won’t cover the costs. You MUST have a builder involved because only they have the skills, experience, and willingness to bribe.

    Also that one lot might be more acreage than you wish to sell or need to sell. How does that preserve open space?

    The county tells me (under the tutelage of PEC) that for every home I don’t build, I’m saving the county $2300 per year. OK, I’ll go along with that. But they are renting that savings from me and not paying me any rent. If they will pay me 5 or 6% interest on all that money they claim I’m saving them, I’d shut up. That kind of money would just about cover the annual losses on the farm. Everybody gets what they want, everybody is treated fairly, and nobody loses very much. Seems like a fair deal to me.

    Unless of course you are the person that really wanted a house and got stuck with a transit oriented condo cubicle instead.

  • Mr. Hyde sure is wordy! I hope Dean Settle doesn’t turn this into another Staton – Settle epic!

    Mr. Hyde is a deep thinker, are you for any zoning rules at all? I still don’t buy into the thought that limiting subdivision is a taking of property. Property can still be bought and sold for a healthy profit within restrictive zoning districts.

  • Ray Hyde says:

    Certainly there is a place for zoning. Certainly there are safety and resource issues to be considered.

    Originally we had nuisance laws and zoning was supposed to help eliminate the angst and cost of going to court over every little thing. But zoning has since morphed into a sort of uber property owners association and a tool of every possible special interest group. It is one thing to support rules that prevent damage to your neighbors, as Mr. Settles suggests. It is quite another when organized neighbors from the other end of the county show up and complain about any niggling variance, or that your new home will result in too much traffic or school overcrowding someday down the road. We have allowed the concept of nuisance to get far out of hand, such that any nuisance to a neighbor is too much, yet the loss of several million dollars, or perpetual requests for newer and better plans with more and more give-aways are not considered a nuisance for the owner.

    Some are using it to prevent change – ever, which I regard as a plan to fail. What we need to do is manage change and try to get the best possible end result. Clearly what we are doing now is not achieving that. On one hand we have Urban citizens clamoring for more open space and on the other we have rural citizens clamoring for better jobs. We should recognize that zoning is not a forever thing, it is subject to change, and it is necessary to change. We should set rezoning schedules and let them come up for a vote periodically: it is too important to leave to the supervisors and special interest groups.

    If I bought land that I negotiated the price for based on the prospect of ten houses, and the zoning was subsequently changed to one, yes, I would consider that a taking, even if I had not desire or plans for the ten houses. When Fauquier County was downzoned in 1986, part of the deal was that landowners would be allowed three so called administrative lots. These could be developed at any time with minimal restrictions. In 2000, those administrative lots were reduced to one, the reason given was that too many people were “taking advantage” of the law. That is not only a taking, but it is dishonest whelching on a previously made deal on the part of the government.

    The next thing that is coming is a requirement for so-called green development. New buildings may be required to have sod on the roofs, in order to reduce runoff. OK, how are you going to mow the grass on your roof? Suppose you have a roof leak, now you have to excavate the sod to fix the leak, and all of this because someone else thinks it’s a good idea.

    Yes, property can be bought and sold within restrictive zoning districts, so long as those regulations remain stagnant. But if the regulations are changed downward some people are going to lose the potential for a lot of money, maybe tens of millions. And that potential loss is also a loss to all those that might have acquired the property and watched it appreciate, but have no vote in the issue.

    The reverse is also true. If someone bought in what they thought was a rural area, and the rules are eased, then they may very well feel as if they have lost something. But, somehow, if the rules are tightened, the the argument is that you cannot expect that government will not exercise it’s prerogative to govern, but if they are loosened then the argument is, “Hey, you can’t do that. You are destroying my lifestyle.”

    Mabe we should consider tightening the rules a taking, as it really is, and we should also consider loosening the rules a giving, with opposite financial consequences. But property is considered as a bundle of sticks with different rights according to the property, and what was negotiated with the purchase. If you take even one of my sticks, then that is a taking, I think. Now, the county records all deeds, and therefore inserts itself in the process. The county should therefore attach a list of everything that is expressly allowed and disallowed to the deed, and then there is no question as to what has been bought, and subsequently taken or added.

    Instead, what we have is an open negotiation between the owner, the government, and anyone who thinks they have a beef, even though they are not a party to the contract. All I’m saying is that if you want to be a party to the contract, then you need to bring something to the table.

  • Ray Hyde says:

    In case you think my ideas are far out, the following is excerpted from the Jacksonville NC Daily News:

    For the past couple of decades at least, Oregon has it has served as a testing ground for some of the most Draconian smart growth and “new urbanism” ideas out there — making it a mecca of sorts for the better-living-through-master-planning set, but a war zone for property owners. All this command and control spawned a backlash several years back, when Oregonians approved Measure 37. It required that property owners be compensated when a land control regulation diminished their property value.

    A government taking is a government taking, in our view, whether it comes in the form of condemnation and seizure using eminent domain, or via rules and regulations that so restrict an individual’s property rights that a “regulatory taking” has occurred. We therefore applauded passage of Measure 37, though it led to an uproar among liberals, growthcontrollers and greens, who knew this would mean their days of cost-free regulating were over. There is no such thing as cost-free regulating, of course, any more than there’s such a thing as a “free” government program. The question is, as always, “who pays?”

    Until the passage of 37, which has been upheld by the Oregon Supreme Court, all the costs of growth control regulations fell on the individual property owners, who saw their land use options (and value) diminished in myriad ways. After its passage, the cost burden shifted to where it belongs — to the regulator and the taxpaying public in whose name many of these growth controls are imposed. If they want to continue to play with people’s lives — which is what it amounts to when you meddle with their property — they have to pay to do so.

    This sticks in the craw of the command-and-control crowd, no doubt, but we think it will lead to much more care and discretion in the way regulators and politicians operate, as well as remind the public that someone has to pay for land-use regulations.

    Last week, supporters of Initiative 933, a Measure 37 clone in Washington state, turned in enough signatures to make the ballot.”

    Similar measures forwarded to adress Kelo and *NEW*, but not existing, land use rules are on the ballot or scheduled to be on the ballot in six other states this fall. The backfire in Oregon took 20 years before it developed into a full scale voter revolt, but this initiative was passed twice and both times special interests tried to repeal the voters voice in the courts.

    But history now suggests that if we want to be successful in conservation, and if we want to get some of what we desire, then we need to create only those regulations that won’t set off a backlash.

    As NJH said “Most (but not all) of the “property rights” advocates, Ray included, stand to gain financially from higher densities in the west.” But at the same time, as the newspaper article notes, the regulator and the taxpaying public in whose name many of these growth controls are imposed also stand to gain financially if they are able to impose the costs of growth control on somebody else.

    What we need to do is offset the costs and gains in such a way that both parties come away from the table satisfied with their part of the deal. Any other result is either a status quo, or else it is stealing.

  • The Voice says:

    Two points, here.
    Barbara Munsey says farms don’t pay their fair share in the first place.
    Selling 20 acres or less to different developers certainly does move the eggs around, and all of the developers would have to pull out of a plan in order for a farm family to fall flat.
    And further, why are they selling all of it again? Oh…because having money is a new sickness that would make the past generations who worked the land roll over in their graves if they had to see what their descendents were doing with it.
    Sell off enough to pay taxes, and keep producing.

    Or, felling the need to keep up with the other blockheads who “need” a 8000 sq. ft. house and a Mercedes in the driveway, try to sell it all off and screw what grandaddy thinks.

    That’s just a sad reminder of where our generational values have eroded.

  • Ray Hyde says:

    You don’t understand. The way the rules are, you MUST do all the development at once and you MUST use one developer. That’s because once you do more that one or two homesites, you become classified as a subdivision, and all the subdivision regulations kick in: Environmental impact study, traffic study, soil study, drainage plan, tree survey, etc. etc. etc.

    There are a number of farms in my area that are pieces of much larger farms that once existed. They were subdivided and sold by parents, grandparents, and great grandparents of some of the current residents. Saying that grandpa would roll over in his grave is just romantic and false dreaming.

    I have the farm ledgers for my farm dating to the last century, and from looking at them it doesn’t take long to figure out that grandpa was a shrewd businessman. He would understand that when the land is worth as much as you can get by farming it for two hundred years, that it is not a practical business. Even the South Carolina Department of Agriculture has published a study showing that at $4000 per acre only the very best farmers can succeed, at $7000 per acre, you would be better off to buy government bonds and sit on the porch: no risk, no labor, and more money.

    I would much rather not sell the land and keep farming. I would much rather support the values that you seem to think are generational in nature. But even if I win the lottery, I can only farm until the money is gone. It takes profit, and it takes a reasonable return on investment, or else it is a loss in the end, even Grandpa would understand that.

    Barbara thinks that farms don’t pay their fair share. She thinks big land owners are getting huge tax breaks through agricultural or land use taxation. Then of course there are farm subsidies, if you qualify.

    That depends on how you look at it. I pay the same tax as anyone else on my house and two acres. Based on that, I’m paying my fair share relative to what everyone else pays. Then, in addition to that, I pay more money on the agricultural portion of the farm. That amounts to free money to the county because they provide zero in return, unless maybe I have a forest fire. My bunnies don’t go to school, and my trees seldom get arrested. The money I pay on the agricultural portion is based on an assessment of what I might potentially earn per acre from using the land agriculturally. I have yet to earn that much, but part of the land is in forestry, so I’m paying tax on money I have not earned yet. I also pay the regular tax rate on all the other farm buildings and infrastructure. For farms with a lot of infrastructure, like dairy farms, it turns out that they may pay more under land use than they would otherwise, because land use raises the overall tax rate.

    As a result, PEC and county officials, and American Farmland Trust frequently repeat the story that farms are paying 300% in taxes of what they cost in services. They use this argument to convince homeowners that it is in their interest to preserve the farms because it keeps the homeowners taxes low. But how is charging the farms 300% of what they cost helping to preserve the farms? It is one reason the farms cannot make money enough to stay in business.

    However, Barbara may also be right. Farms are not paying what they ought to pay if they had development rights. Land use does raise the overall tax rate, because we are not collecting as much as we might otherwise. (It is another issue as to whether the amount we collect is enough to cover the costs, but what that implies is that none of us are paying enough, not just the new construction.) However, if a lot comes out of land use, then the back taxes at full rate must be payed for five years. The land use tax rate is only a deferment until five years have passed, that seems like a fair trade to keep the farmer/developers honest. The problem with Barbara’s argument is that farms don’t have the development rights, and therefore it is wrong to tax them the full rate, unless you are going to give them full rights.

    In Loudoun, Fauquier, and Warren County every farm has been losing money for the past 20 years, on average. (Based on Farm census data.)There are a few large farms that make money, but many of them do so through farm subsidies, if you call that making money. There are probably quite a few that make cash sales and don’t declare their income, as well.

    I would like to be able to agree with you on generational values, but I don’t. I would like to be in the positioon Mr. Settles is, but I’m not. Every time I sink another $1000 or $5000 in the farm, I have to ask myself if I wouldn’t be better off putting it in my retirement account. Probably the answer is yes, but hope against experience, it goes in the farm anyway. If somebody else “saves” the farm in such a way that the investments can never be recovered, then I will have lost a big bet. Unless the farm eventually becomes profitable.

    Profits (and people like Mr. Settles) are what will save the farms, and if there are no profits to be made, the profits will come from something else. If we want to save the farms we will have to do it by supporting them, and not by fiat, unless farms become solely the estates of the very wealthy. When that happens, and people realize that saving the farms means it is costing them a fortune to live in crowded conditions, then the pendulum will swing and we will hear calls for “land reform”.

    Until tractors became widely available in 1949 755 of farmland was used to raise and feed the draft animals that worked th other 75%. Tractors made 75% of farmland surplus. Since then, productivity has increased over 500%, so we only need 5% of the land we used to need. For farming. That is not to say that we don’t still need the land for other reasons, but we can’t count on farms to save the land for us. Not without profits.

    So, in the meantime if anyone thinks it is important to save prime farmland, I’ll invite them to come over every Saturday and work along side of me. (I work Sundays and evenings as well, but I’m not unreasonable.) If we ever make a profit, I’ll even share it with you.

    I’ve made that offer for fifteen years, and haven’t had a taker, yet. It is a sad reminder of how our values have eroded.

  • Dean Settle says:

    Ray, I’m the first to offer help to anyone. I’ve stacked hay with several other farmers out here for free. No financial consideration…just the fact that it had to be put in the barn and they needed a hand.
    Some of you may have seen me out by the community center in Lovettsville last weekend forming a replacement wall for the old failing 90 year old one. Again… no charge.

    Hard work doesn’t scare me.But right now, I’m up to my elbows in my own farm work.

    My farm must be one of those very few that turns a profit. I agree when you say that I’m paying out in taxes that I do not benefit one cent back from.

    I abhor the 10 acre “farmettes” with not a single
    crop in sight.
    I call those estates, and they are killing real farms. When you drop their size to 3 acres, they really bite into the farms, because now, not only can they replace ground where crops should be standing, but their 2.2 children now go to school and cost the rest of us alot of money.

    What’s with the value of the land hangup? I could afford mine, and that was the last that I cared about the price of the land, because I plan to live here all the rest of my life. Short of having it jacked up to accomodate some insanely low class smoke and mirrors trickery by some on the board, I couldn’t care less. Actually, at this point in my life, the lower it appraises, the lower the taxes will be.

    Ray, I encourage you to read the new planning. There are two options available for developing. By parcel, and by Clustering option. Everything is still there, just not at the A3 level, and not at the previous board’s straight 20/50.

    This version was drafted to give families options. It is a happy medium between two extremes.

    Personally, I’m warmer to readvertizing the old AR1 and AR2 and making sure we get notices to some of the slower individuals out in Lucketts with plainer language that says whether they are included or not. That IS the only problem the court found with it.

  • Ray Hyde says:

    Dean, despite the way my text may sound, I’m with you. I think large lots are a disaster, also. I don’t have any desire to develop, either. But that doesn’t mean I’m in favor of seeing the option and the value stolen. I’m not in Loudoun, but I wanted people who have some Idyllic idea about farming, and farm business to understand what is happening.

    In some cases rich landowners ARE getting a tax break, not just on their land, but by taking losses against their other income. In other cases poor landowners are having their retirement and children’s inheritance destroyed for no reason, when there is really no one to carry on the farm, and no economic reason to.

    In some cases what appears to be a place with nothing happening is just sleeping, the owner may be ramping up to the point where he can afford to work full time on the farm during retirement, and real profits aren’t necessary. Or he may need to have a job because that is the only way he can get health insurance, so all he can expect is a break even proposition: he hasn’t got the time.

    There are a thousand stories out there. But let me ask you, Dean, when you die, where is the farmer that can afford to buy your place and continue with it?

    I break even, maybe, if I don’t track my expenses too closely, and if I don’t consider the opportunity cost of the land. But, if you’ve got land that’s worth $10k an acre and you claim to be making a profit, you must be growing opium, pot, or houses.

    Think about it. The interest on $10,000 is $500, at five percent. After planting and harvesting costs, an acre of corn at 120 bushels per acre and $2.50 a bushel will earn you $95.11, if the land is free. Soybeans will get you $107. And you don’t have to plow and harvest and worry and sweat over that interest check. Meanwhile, that land use break Barbara thinks I’m getting is based on crops earning $400 per acre. Based on the facts, that is some break.

    There is a lot of loose talk out there (on BOTH SIDES)about rapacious developers, land speculators, lost generational values, newcomers causing taxes to rise, our prime farmland, viewsheds, waterways, habitat, pollution. But the bottom line is that when push comes to shove over open space, most people will chose to live in a house over living in an open space, (and I’m sure their neighbors would prefer it that way, too!) The result is that space is becoming more valuable to everyone except those that have it.

    I really don’t have a heartfelt position one way or another, but I’d say I’m closer to yours than, say, Pulte Homes. But, at the same time, I’m a flinty, New England realist, with a financial and an environmental background, and I’m here to will anyone who will listen that conservation is expensive.

    It costs exactly as much as the development around it. If you don’t believe it, just try to imagine what Central Park is worth. But no one in their right mind would suggest doing away with it, because it makes the adjacent buildings so valuable, and also because everyone owns it, pays for it, and is free to enjoy it.

    Anyone who thinks it is any different in Loudoun, or Fairfax, for that matter, hasn’t thought it out. You cannot have your open spaces for free, and you cannot legislate farms into profitability. One way or another, you are going to pay for your open space.

    As for low class trickery on the part of board members, I wouldn’t count it out. I had one board member tell me that if I didn’t like the rules, I was free to move. He later bought a large (former farm) lot outside the county. I had another tell me to my face what his plans for my property were. He told me he would like to see somebody wealthy buy it so they could place a tax favored conservation easement on it.

    Well, that is his plan. If it comes to that, I might prefer to find a rich buyer who could afford to donate it to Habitat for Humanity. But in any case, it is not up to him to make my plans, unless he is willing to pay me enough to do his bidding.

    Oh, and that tax favored conservation easement? Who do you think pays for that? One way or another, you are going to pay for the open space you save. We can argue about the amount we need to save, and why we need to, but don’t even think that it is going to be cheap.

    I’d like to be able to help out Mr. Settles, too. But just like him, I’m up to my elbows in my own farm work. So I guess that makes two of us out here that could use a little more support out here. I wonder where it will come from first: those who want to save the farms, or the developers?

  • t says:

    And t thought that women couldn’t stop talking.

  • Ray, minor correction but it is Settle, not Settles. Dean is a noted thorn in the side of Loudoun Supervisor Mick Staton over land use policy and costs of community services, see Staton’s blog for more.

    This is a very complex issue. Several points I would add to the mix:

    I believe that the housing/development industry is the biggest proponent of unlimited illegal immigration, many of whom build the houses in question. The continuing decentralized housing patterns favor “white flight” to new housing while decaying inner cities and suburbs absorb new immigrants. Not that there’s anything wrong with making a buck, but it is in the mega housing corporations best interests to continue this trend. Less immigration equals less housing pressure on rural land – nothing xenophobic in saying that, but a simple fact of life.

    I also have seen firsthand that the development industry is very good at stoking fear (certainly somewhat justified) in farming families, and their cronies in the development industry (lawyers, engineers, etc.) are expert at really milking the cow that is the often uninformed farmer. Development engineering costs are absolutely ridiculous in many instances (but are borne by the inflated marketplace)and the regulations they need to comply with are often not as onerous as they say. Plans are submitted with glaring errors and ommissions again and again with concurrent racking up of charges.

    Finally, your income examples of corn and soybeans are obviously not big money makers for most farmers outside of the Midwest. There are a growing number of alternative concepts and markets for direct marketed and value added products from smaller local farms that can be profitable. Viable alternatives to traditional agriculture do exist other than housing.

  • Independent Republican says:

    Staton does what ever his father-in-law and financial backer tells him to do. Black-Lite!

  • Dean Settle says:

    Loudoun Insider, thanks for the correction. I’d have pointed it out to him, but coming from me, the tone would have been condescending, and one I most assuredly would not like to convey.

    Mr. Hyde,
    I think you summed the whole ball of wax up in one sentence. “It costs exactly as much as the development around it. If you don’t believe it, just try to imagine what Central Park is worth. But no one in their right mind would suggest doing away with it, because it makes the adjacent buildings so valuable, and also because everyone owns it, pays for it, and is free to enjoy it.”

    It is the County’s duty to maintain the open space. The COCS ratios demand it. The rural farmland is one half of the money that pays the cost of residential. The other half is from commercial property taxes. The rural and the commmercial actually leave money in the till after they dipped out services. The residential takes out it’s share and then another half of a pail.

    Loudoun has developed too many houses with school children exiting them, and dropped the ball on rural and commercial development. That’s a debt bomb waiting to happen.

    At some point in our future, the water in the midwest is going to go low again. There are five major cities sucking it dry right now. At some point, that farming and crop growth (think emerging natural replenished alternative fuels) will go to the west coast and the east coast. I can only hope that there is still land available to help us produce our own fuel stuffs and we do not have to resort to buying THAT from foriegn entities.

    Speaking of water, it is on the fall here as well. It just isn’t feasible to keep packing it in when there is no more water to be had. ALL of the Potomac River allocations have been tapped, so don’t plan on that avenue.

  • Ray Hyde says:

    My apologies about your name.

    I’ll go around on this one more time, and then let it go.

    As you say, it is the county’s duty to maintain the open space. Why then, do they insist on taxing the people who own it out of existence? And who is the county? It is all those people who are living in residences that don’t pay enough taxes to cover their own costs. These are the same people that insist that we need to save “our” prime farmland and rural viewscapes (partly because it also increases their property values).

    The obvious answer is to raise the real estate taxes enough to cover the actual costs, including those who live on farm residences. That way “the county” would be doing its duty to maintain the open spaces by not taxing them to death, and the farm residences would be paying their fair share and no more.

    This would be analogous to the Central park situation. All those residences that overlook the park pay enough taxes to sustain it. In fact, they pay enough to both own and sustain it. If we raise our taxes enough to do our duty to save open space then we will see what the value of open space is and how much of it we are really willing to save.

    What we have here is the opposite situation. The residences want to have the park, and they want the park owners to pay THEM for the privilege of providing it. It is just wrong, and it amounts exactly to the county not doing its duty.

    To use the argument that residences don’t pay their fair share in order to justify continuing to punish landowners who pay more than their fair share is a circular argument to begin with, and it defeats the goal of saving open space besides. It is just dumb.

    Either we can accept the idea that businesses support housing and housing supports businesses, and therefore our tax structure is fair fair overall, or we can accept the idea that our tax structure is unfair and it needs to be fixed. The first case implies that there is no real need for the argument that residences don’t pay their way, the second case simply admits that they should pay their own way and therefore we should all be paying more, including newcomers.

    But to blatantly come out and admit that our tax structure is unfair, and therefore we need to continue to screw (“save”) the farmers to keep it that way is patently crazy. Besides that, it can’t continue: it is guaranteed to fail.

    Suppose I was to say screw it. Suppose I subdivide my house and lot and simply give the remaining land ot the county. What would they do? They would have no income, and the land has no building rights. I would still be surrounded by pristine countryside, and I would join the rest of the residences in not paying my fair share.

    The county would be in my shoes, with land and no way to profit from it. I guarantee they would find some way to develop it, and if not, they would pay the price for keeping it, and not me. Everyone’s taxes would go up a little bit to cover the loss of taxes previously paid. This shows the essential unfairness of the current situation.

    That brings us to the concept of farms as businesses. Businesses pay more tax two ways. They pay more real estate tax because commercial property is rare and valuable, and they pay more income tax because the have more income.

    But farms, as a whole, have negative income according to the farm census. They haven’t got anything to pay taxes with. On a federal level we provide massive subsidies to keep some of them around and on a local level we are taxing them all away. Despite what Loudoun Insider says, if farms paid taxes on what they actually earn instead of what they could conceivably earn in the abstract of perfect conditions and an infinite number of niche markets, well, you wouldn’t collect much.

    Now remember, the farm resiences are already paying tax at the same rate as everyone else, which is to say not enough to cover their costs. For the most part that comes from off farm income, working at some business, which does pay excess tax.

    But unlike business real estate taxes, farms are taxed on land that is for the most part both plentiful and surplus. You tax businesses on their inventory, but you don’t tax them on inventory AND prohibit them from selling it, which is what we are doing to farms. You don’t prevent a businsess from converting to some other business either, which we also do to farms. And the reason we prohibit them from selling it is because we don’t want any MORE people who aren’t paying their bills.

    Bottom line is that by not doing our duty and paying our own costs, we are preventing the county from doing its duty to protect the open space. We are taxing the farm businesses that don’t have any money and then we wonder why they are disappearing.

    Now, Insider is partly right. I could go out and buy some Percherons and Clydesdales and some nice safe haywagons with brakes. I could become Ray Hyde’s Hay Rides, and fill those wagons up every Saturday. Put on a straw hat and play Old MacDonald. I could rent out space for people to park their RV’s or contracting equipment. But either way I would be a commercial enterprise, and I’m not zoned commercial just agricultural, and only conventional agriculture at that.

    Yes, there a number of alternative and direct marketing schemes. But there are so many farmers and so much can be produced that ALL of those niche markets will be filled and then fail. Pot Bellied pigs, Emus, Beefaloes, you name it. But as I said, the South Carolina department of agriculture considered that in their study, and still concluded that at some price the cost of land makes ALL farming impractical.

    Mr. Settle and I prefer to carry our inventory, but that does not mean that it is not wrong to prohibit us from selling. What it does mean that we have decided it is in our best interests to hang on. We may even have made that decision even if we know it is not financially wise. But in the end, one of two things will happen: either the land will be sold for more later (maybe after we die) or else enough farms will go out of business that we can find some market that works, just as he suggests.

    I’m not conflicted about proposing that farms be allowed to go out of business because it hastens the day when I might actually make a living at it. If my residential neighbors are paying enough to support me (by whatever means), then I won’t mind paying business-like taxes. Until then, as long as my residential neighbors continue spongeing off of me while making nice sounding noises like generational values or saving “our” prime farmland and viewscapes and watersheds, and as long as the county is not doing its duty to support open space (that everyone seems to agree is a necessity in its own right, never mind the tax implications), and on a fair basis, then I’m going to continue to call that kind of talk what it is.

    It is hypocrisy. It is double speak. It is circular logic. It is grossly unfair. And it is economically doomed to fail, eventually.

    I recognize that it is the eventually part of my argument where it breaks down. In the meantime, those that espouse the status quo can continue to steal, and enhance their own residential pocketbook, maybe for a very long time. You can try to cloak the facts by demonizing the people that provide us with homes, but I can see clearly who is really picking my pocket: it is all the people who aren’t paying their fair share.

    Remember, business is tax positive, under our current system. And business and homes are inextricably linked. As Mr. Settle has pointed out, so is sustainability and open space. If you believe that houses don’t pay their own way, then Mr. Settle is correct: we have a debt bomb waiting to go off. That is just another way of saying we should all be paying more now, in order to prevent debt payments later.

    But if open space is necessary, and you are over taxing the open space to pay for the debt bomb, and if the open space isn’t producing sufficient income to make the payments, then you have a different debt bomb going off, and it can only result in the loss of farmland.

    Only cash flow pays taxes. Open space can’t pay the taxes without cash flow. Either we do our duty and pay enough for the goods and services open space provides, and we can tax the owners on the income, or it will go away. Clearly, continuing to tax it at more than it costs and more than it earns only guarantees that it will go away sooner. If we stop doing that, then residences will have to pay their fair share, in which case we can stop arguing about development rights, at least based on tax arguments.

    THEN we can focus on what open space provides, what it is worth, and how much we are willing to pay for it. We already have a legal means for preserving all the open space we want: we can buy it and we can pay for it, Just like Central Park. What we are doing instead is stealing it.

    It seems a simple concept to me, I’m sorry it takes so many words to explain.

  • Dean Settle says:

    Ray,

    I agree with parts of your case, but then arrive at the parts that thru research on the matter, I know are not as you say they are.
    I am not a “no development” believer, but a less dense development believer. If we slow down the residential and give commercial and rural businesses a chance to catch up….coddle them if need be… then the ratios remain intact and the tax bomb is difused.

    At the rate this county has been pushing out developments, the ratio is not maintained and we’re in serious danger of the ramifications. One need look no further than Montgomery County, where they set up agricultural and rural zoning in the outlying parts of the county where they will not build. This was a useful endeavor to balance residential growth with rich farmland further out in the county. Looking at their housing costs and land value, it is actually pretty similar to our own costs and values here. This supports the reasoning that it will not drive up the costs of the land or the taxes. It is a living, breathing case of rural and residential coexistance that has sustained and prospered for the county.

    I had a discussion with R. Minchew recently in which he proposed that we go on and cut budgets of numerous entities in the county that recieve tax dollars. Wait for the screams from those entities about unfairness, and then formulate the budget again after investigation of the usefulness of those recieving tax dollars.
    We’ve already started with the school system, andI for one want to see them trimmed back until they can produce results. I’d be happy to restore their funding, but I’d demand results first and a merit system installed for the future.
    Cutting taxes is about reducing the amount of residences, or making them pay for their own infrastructure by way of a tax that takes from them, coupled with a magnifying glass on expenditures and determination of where cuts can occur in programs that do not meet their mark in serving the county citizens. Accountability and maintaining the ratios are the huge formula in getting tax relief.

  • Ray Hyde says:

    “If we slow down the residential and give commercial and rural businesses a chance to catch up….coddle them if need be… then the ratios remain intact and the tax bomb is difused.”

    I agree. So write zoning laws that slow down the growth and neither prohibit it nor define how it must look. I don’t see that is what is happening. Once a restrictive zoning ordinace is written it is darn hard to change it.

    If the county told me “You can build one house up to 2800 sq ft. every ten years” I could live with that. It is more than I can afford, anyway. I’d have something I can count on and plan for.

    Under the present system I would need to go and beg favors from the supervisors, and provide detailed plans at great expense, which might well be denied.

    I think we are pretty much on the same page. I just get a little exercised when people who know squat about me or my business tell me what they think I should do. I’m open to suggestions, but I despise orders. Like you, I’ve been taught not to upset my neighbors or take advantage of them. I don’t understand people who don’t follow that advice, especially when they think it is to my benefit.

    Dean, my main tractor broke down the first week of hay season. Six weeks later I got it back at great expense: New hydraulic pump and transmission overhaul. After I used it for a day the (new) cluth failed. My season is pretty much a loss, but I need a good 60+ HP tractor. If you know of one to buy, rent, or borrow, I could use some help. – Ray

  • Dean Settle says:

    Ray,

    Where in the county are you. We should talk more back channel.
    E-mail loudouninsider@tooconservative.com and ask him for my e-mail address. I’ll e-mail him as well and share my e-mail address with him and request that he share it with you.
    Meanwhile, I can keep an eye out for the tractor.

    Best,

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  • Yorkfan says:

    The fact is that we don’t have a candidate to beat York.

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