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Blacksburg, Virginia

Blacksburg, population 39,700, lies at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains in southwestern Virginia. In 1996, the Town adopted protections for the Tom’s Creek Basin, a six square mile area with small farms adjacent to the George Washington-Jefferson National Forest in southwestern Blacksburg.  The 1996 ordinance created the Rural Residential, Rural Residential II and Creek Valley zoning districts. The Rural Residential II was designed to encourage the preservation of additional farmland, forests and open space through a transfer of development rights. Specifically, density in the RRII could increase from one unit per acre to two units per acre when developers proffered any of 14 different community benefits including the preservation of open space. A detailed explanation of this process appears in Beyond Takings and Givings.

The program was amended in 1998 partly to conform more closely with Virginia state law, which does not yet allow local jurisdictions to adopt traditional TDR programs. Developers who want the two-unit per acre density allowed in the RR 2 zone must submit preliminary development plans that include the proffering of deed-restricted land. The Town’s Open Space Commission and Planning Commission consider this proposed sending area when making recommendations to the Town Council. If acceptable, the preliminary plans are approved with the offer of the deed-restricted land as a condition of approval. As mentioned above, the original program allowed proffering for any of 14 different goals including private recreation facilities, private sewerage systems, architectural controls and affordable housing as well as open space features. However the 1998 amendment limits the proffered land to permanently-eased open space and specifies that at least 75 percent of the proffered site must be preserved.

The Creek Valley District allows “transfers” from an overlay zone that originally included Tom’s Creek, its 100-year floodplain, steeply sloped land adjacent the floodplain, contiguous wetlands and all land within 50 feet of the centerline of the creek for land not already included under the other three criteria. Now the Creek Valley zone also includes two other creeks, (Stroubles and Slate Branch), and the westernmost portions of the floodplains of these two creeks. Land included within the overlay permits only agriculture, outdoor recreation, open space and residential yards. This code section allows “transfers” of development potential from land within the zone but outside the 100-year floodplain. However this density can only be transferred to “those portions of the same lot, or to other lots within the same planned development, which are located outside the Creek Valley District.”

In a phone conversation of March 29, 2004, Dan McKinney, Senior Comprehensive Planner, stated that the transfer provisions of the code have not been changed since the publication of Beyond Takings and Givings. However, he  reported that the Town did rezone one area from RR-1 to RR-2, essentially approving the Town’s first and only transfer to date. The receiving site is the Brook Circle subdivision.

Blacksburg wants to preserve the rural character of the Tom’s Creek Basin, shown here.

Blacksburg has recently experienced a transfer from farmland in the RR1 zone, shown here.