- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2006

It’s one small step for children, one giant leap for open space.

Instead of becoming another housing development, a grassy field along Route 123 soon will become a ball field, thanks to an agreement between a former lawmaker’s family and the Fairfax County Park Authority.

At a time when developers are hungry for land, longtime residents and conservationists see the future ball fields as a victory for quality of life.

The issue is significant for McLean residents who were upset in 1999 when Evans Farm was sold to a developer who planned 144 condos and town houses on the 24-acre property.

Fairfax County Supervisor Joan M. DuBois, Dranesville Republican, said the difference is the Evans Farm owner wanted to sell the property to a developer, but relatives of the late state Sen. Clive L. DuVal II preferred to come up with a way to preserve the property and the home.

Late last year, the Board of Supervisors agreed to spend $16 million to purchase a conservation easement on the 41-acre property. The family could have received more than double from developers.

“It’s very generous of them,” Mrs. DuBois said. “It’s a win-win for everyone. It preserves the land, lets the DuVals live there and gives us some sorely needed active recreation centers.”

In addition to the two rectangular fields, the county will design a plan for a picnic area and trails through part of the property. The DuVals will maintain their home and 10 acres of land surrounding it.

“If you read the papers, all you hear about is growth, growth, growth,” Mrs. DuBois said. She said this is one case in which residents don’t have to worry about lots of new homes altering the community.

It’s a choice that could have implications not only for the housing market, but also for the commute for current and future residents of Northern Virginia. Mrs. DuBois said developing the property into condos or town houses could have meant “a significant amount of traffic.”

Stephen S. Fuller of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University said there is no obvious economic effect as long as the acreage removed from development is a small amount. He points out that Fairfax County has 396 square miles.

“If it’s thousands of acres, it might take land that would be better served for other purposes,” Mr. Fuller said. But in small amounts, the conservation deal would be helpful because the county “gets land it couldn’t afford to buy” at market rates.

“Having public spaces are certainly important and won’t generate traffic,” Mr. Fuller said.

The Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT) said the DuVal family’s decision to seek a conservation easement is part of a small but growing trend as more landowners find out about the option of donating land easements.

Owners sell off part of their property rights, like the ability to subdivide it to add homes. They then can take a tax write-off.

In 2005, a Great Falls resident donated a 5-acre conservation easement to NVCT that includes two streams north of Great Falls Park that feed into the Potomac River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

The local land trust also acquired an easement on a 2-acre farmhouse in McLean, a 1-acre parcel containing the historic Glebe House in Arlington, 3 acres in Alexandria known as Monticello Park and 10 acres of a peninsula on the Potomac in Stafford County.

“We’re very pleased with that,” NVCT President Michael Nardolilli said. “It has been a good year for us.”

Mr. Nardolilli said many of the 81 acres acquired last year have been under negotiation for years.

But he also said more people have been donating land easements in the past few years simply because they know about them. He attributes an education outreach recently targeting lawyers and accountants.

“That’s now becoming more well-known so that when a landowner sits down with a tax adviser and says, ‘I wish I could preserve my property,’ a light bulb goes on in their head,” Mr. Nardolilli said.

Although the landowner ultimately may not do it, he said, at least they know to consider it.

Mrs. DuBois said the county park authority is mapping out a design for the ball fields. It likely will be a couple years before they are constructed.

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