Stafford County PDR program preserving open space

FALMOUTH—A struggling program to preserve farmland in Virginia celebrated a small victory Sept. 9 when 300 acres of land belonging to Edward "Jerry" Silver and his wife, Victoria, were accepted into Stafford County’s new Purchase of Development Rights program.

"We feel real good about it," Silver said. "We can still timber it, we can hunt on it, and certainly we want to protect the land as much as the people who hold the easement on it.

"It makes economic sense and it makes environmental sense. That piece of land is not going to require any more county services, even if the one house allowed on it is built. Just think, instead of having 22 development lots available, there’ll be only one house on the property."

Stafford County used $300,000 in matching grant money from Virginia’s Office of Farmland Preservation to fund the easement on the Silver’s property. Silver said it made sense for his family to sell their development rights, since his son is the fifth generation farming it and they have no intention of using it for any other purpose. The Silvers have about 300 head of cattle, grow 500 acres of row crops and have a custom slaughter operation.

"We just like to keep the land like it is, keep on farming and do what we’ve been doing all our lives," he said.

New PDR easements like this have been rare since the economic downturn, despite the program’s benefits to communities and taxpayers. When farmland is preserved in fast-growing localities like Stafford County, taxpayers no longer need to worry about supplying school and police services to that property, said Lindsay Reames, assistant director of governmental relations for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

Additionally, preserving working farms and open space also maintains the quality of life that many new residents cherish when they move into a more rural community.

"Local purchase of development rights programs are one of the best tools farmers can use to preserve their land in agriculture," Reames said. "Unfortunately there hasn’t been a lot of money for the state program in recent years, but it’s good to see localities doing the best they can in these tough economic times."

Reames added that while only $100,000 in state funding is available for the PDR grant program this year, it is important to keep the program alive to provide technical support to the 20 Virginia localities that have already received grants or passed ordinances to establish a local PDR program.

Contact Reames at 804-290-1019, Silver at 540-373-0615 or Norm Hyde, VFBF video producer, at 804-290-1146.

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