Background & Issue Updates

The county will be presented with research and information from their committees regarding downzoning at their May 7th meeting and to discuss and then vote on a final plan at their May 21st meeting, so there is not much time you must be involved now and come to both of these crucial meetings.


The county has already started the public engagement process and is limiting the amount of participants. Please contact the county planning department at 540-658-8668 to ask them how you can be included as one of the participants in this limited public engagement process. 


The county is holding individual interviews with a very limited number of stakeholders: 6 to 8 developers, large scale landowners, and home builders to discuss the issue. 


It is unfortunate that they did not notify all landowners so they could have an equal opportunity to be involved in these interviews. The county and the engineering firm they hired, Stantec, is going to arbitrarily select 6 to 8 participants from a list provided by Stafford County Planning and Zoning to interview them on this issue.


Also in the next month, the county will host public round tables that all landowners will be allowed to attend.


The report "Healthy Growth 2-1-19",  prepared by the county and released  in February states unequivocally that they want to incentivize growth in the USA (Urban Services Area), and de-incentivize growth in the "rural areas" as show on their maps in the report. (green map area). 

Most of the report gives reasons why rural land is a bad place to build houses and why it is in the county's "best interests" to keep this land "rural and undeveloped" .


Please read this report. It is a manifesto of false propaganda which labels in this downzoning scenario as, "Healthy Growth." It's anything but.


Nothing in the report addresses the consequences of downzoning::

  • landowner property rights

  • lower land values in A-1 areas

  • lower tax revenue in the A-1 land parcels 

  • Higher taxes in the non A-1 properties including houses as well as land due to the lower revenue in these downzoned areas of county

  • overcrowded schools in the Urban Services Area

  • increased traffic in the Urban Services Area

Finally, they don't address the inevitable need to raise tax rates in other zoning districts within the Urban Services Area,  to make up for the lower tax receipts caused by the lower values in A-1 . 


Many of the county projections in this report are false. For example: they state that by the year 2036 "using the current trends", there will be an additional 5234 houses built in the rural areas in this 17 year period.


The total building permits issued in Stafford County over the last 8 years (obtained from their own records),  only 865 building permits issued in rural areas- 15.72 % of the grand total of 5,502 permits issued (since 2011) That means that 84.28% of all permits were in the USA areas of the County (close in locations). This % is well below the counties stated goal of 80 % USA and 20% rural building.


Stats. below provided by Virginia Newsletters LLC,  (all rights reserved) -  these are the real numbers on residential building permits in Stafford County over the last 8 yrs.

The county is also claiming on their "Healthy Growth Study" that within 17 years- 5,234 homes will be built in the rural areas "if this trend continues". In reality, if the trend of the last 8 years continues for a total of 17 years, only 1,839 homes will be built in the rural areas ( 65 % less than what the county is stating will happen on their official report). 


Note above, the last 5 years show a downtrend in rural building permits, starting at 12% in 2014, then a jump to 21%, then down to 18%, then down to 13 % in 2017 and lastly up to 16% in 2018. This is NOT an upward trend- (as the county's Healthy Growth reports states there is) but rather an even level growth rate. The county growth rate inside the USA as well as in the RURAL areas, has followed the nationwide economy up since 2011. 

This is far less than what the county is reporting to the public. The county has created a "false crisis" narrative to substantiate their position to downzone & devalue land in Stafford. In the meantime, they want to "incentivize" more building in the Urban Services Area, which will increase traffic and school crowding disproportionately in already congested areas of the county.






In addition to the above mentioned report, the records we obtained from the county and discussed at various Board of Supervisors Meetings in 2018, clearly have two of the supervisors Mark Dudenhefer and Gary Snellings openly discussing downzoning rural A-1 land.


We quote from the record:


Mark Dudenhefer, "It's time to begin rapidly holding a discussion on the possibility of down zoning A-1 land in the county."


Last year, Gary Snellings is quoted as saying, "Would like staff to take steps to investigate the needed steps to effect a downzoning."


These supervisors have made it loud and clear they are actively pursuing the downzoning of Stafford landowners with complete disregard for the resulting consequences.



1. Letter sent to Jeff Harvey with the 7 members of the board copied, as well as Mike Smith and Jason Towery:

"Dear Jeff,


re: downzoning analysis both yours and mine. 


I respectfuly disagree with your assessment of my analysis. I stand by it for the reasons outlined below. In addition, the county has not done a report on what a downzoning would do to the permits/sales of homes on large 1.5 acre lots over the coming years. 

If they did,  they would realize that it would completely decimate any incentive to build on these large lots and thus there would be a dramatic reduction of large lot building of between 80-90%, from the current 6.5 yr. average of only 125 homes per year down to

aprox.  10- 20 homes per year!  If this is what they want, then they will have succeeded in moving building and development solely within the USA. 


This estimate is based on my experience of building and developing 37 projects -(1,800 homes)  in stafford over the last 35 yrs, I know building and development in this county better than anyone. 


I will respond to your e mail below -  red. 


On Tuesday, Mr. Michael Stonehill, Jr. and Mr. Michael Stonehill, Sr. sent you e-mail messages and commented during the Board meeting regarding inaccuracies in the information provided during the Healthy Growth presentation.  Staff has reviewed the information and has concluded that there are three differences in the Stonehill information that led to a different conclusion.  They are:


  1. The Stonehill data looks at land sales rather than occupancy permits issued.  This data source would miss occupancies where the builder still owns the house or the land transfer had not been recorded.                                                                                                                    Our response: Land sales are the best criteria for calculating what is actually happening in the economy - you cannot fudge what the county recording office has , which is where this info. came from. There are no occupancies where builder owns house etc. etc...  when we   build a house, we sell the house, no builder I know keeps the house or does not record a sale. 

  2. The Stonehill data looked at lot size rather than location of where the home is being built (inside or outside the USA).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Our Response: For the most part, acreage lots of 1.5 acres or more, are only located outside of the USA. and there are minimal lots of this size left inside the USA, so this is an irrelevant comment

  3. The Stonehill data excluded apartments (again, focusing on land sales).  This would work against the argument since apartments are only found in the USA and would favor a higher percentage of development in the USA.                                                                                   Our Response:  if you included apartments in my analysis my numbers would be even more skewed towards what I am saying that the % of sales/permits etc of homes on acreage in stafford is less than 20 % ot the total. For example: when the denominator in my analysis is increased which it would with apartments added, then by definition the % of homes on acreage would drop. For example:  my analysis states that there were 5056 homes in total sold in that 6.5 yr period. in entire county and of those 803 where on large lots (1.5 acres or larger), (see attached analysis again). If you raised the numerator by say  800 apartments, then the calculation would now be  803/5856 = 13.71  % instead of the current 15.88%. 


Attached is a spreadsheet from Jason’s Public Works team outlining the occupancy permits issued during the time period studied by Mr. Stonehill.  During that time period the ratio was 73/27.  The staff presentation also looked at the trend as the where we are headed based on lots approved in the rural areas and within the USA with a ratio of approximately 71/29. 


1. The county spreadsheet assumes that all permits issued outside of the usa are large lots, which is a false assumption. My analysis focuses on the actual size of the lot (each and every lot) which is the question under debate.  For example take year 2017 

The countys report states that  251 homes permitted were outside of the usa - my report states that only 107 homes were on lots of 1.5 acres or larger. This shows the fallacy of the counties report. They dont distinguish between LARGE LOT and smaller lots

in their report. They lump it all into one category - outside the usa without taking into acc. the actual size of the lot. 


2. The counties report covers only 4.5 yrs, (2015- mid 2019), my report covers 6.5 yrs (2013-mid 2019).  And the fact is that only 803 homes were built and sold  (over 6.5 yrs!) on lots 1.5 acres or larger out of a total of 5,856  (as reported by the county recording office).  




1. If 10 acre downzoning is approved (which would effectively reduce the yield on any tract of land by 2/3rs or more. (i.e. 100 acre tract , now yields 30 lots approx. (after roads acreage taken out), same tract would yields 9 lots with 10 acre min. ) , the number of sales and permits on lots greater 1.5 acres will plummet to zero % after the existing two year supply of lots is exhausted.  


If 6 acre zoning is decided upon, the percentage will plummet down 80% as some sites would still be economically  feasible with 6 acre sites.  


2. If this is what the board wanted which -  to effectively stop all building in A-1, they will have succeeded by doing a downzoning. 


attached is my report again as well as counties report. 


Thanks for your time Jeff"


Jan 18, 2019 - This is what we found from the STAFFORD COUNTY BOARD minutes report. of their from Dec. 11, 2018 and Jan. 8, 2019  meetings. 


It clearly shows that they have started the process of downzoning by instructing Michael Smith Deputy County Attorney to start some sort of  "comprehensive analysis."


Note they are calling it "Targeting Growth Areas (TGA)" and Evaluate Zoning outside targeted growth areas. (note: they conveniently forgot to add the word "down" in front of "Zoning") 

Item #17 - This is what they wrote (discussed) as taken verbatim from the published county minutes of their Dec. 11, 18 and Jan. 8 & Jan 19 minutes from the county website: 

ITEM 17 -  Strategic Priority Work Plans Deputy County Administrator, Mr. Michael Smith, gave a presentation and answered Board members questions. He spoke about work plans tasked to staff by the Board. 

The first work plan developed and presented to the Board tackled the first three year priority under the Responsive Transportation System priority. The next proposed work plan would focus on the first three-year priority under Healthy Growth including the following: Identify and execute growth management strategies that align our Comprehensive Plan and infrastructure without negatively affecting taxation; Incentivize growth in the Targeted Growth Areas (TGA); and Evaluate zoning outside areas. 


Mr. Smith said that January/February 2019 would involve a comprehensive analysis; March/April 2019, conduct public outreach; May 7, 2019 – presentation to the Board; May 21, 2019 recommendations for next steps; and June 18, 2019 possible public hearings to consider strategies and/or ordinance amendments. 
Consultants would conduct interviews so as to have third-party, non-partisan facilitators. The Board agreed with Mr. Smith’s planned public outreach strategies and next step  



The County BOS have discussed downzoning and have initiated it with Michael Smith the Deputy County Administrator, leading the charge to prepare a comprehensive analysis for both targeting growth in areas they desire and discouraging (by downzoning) growth and devaluing private land in areas where they do not want to see growth.

They have also given us a timeline, of possibly voting on this issue as early as May or June 2019.



Jan. 10, 2019


Dear Landowners,


We are writing to alert you about very disturbing information that has been circulating around Stafford County that may significantly affect the value of your land.  The Stafford Board of Supervisors appears to be ready to initiate the process to DOWNZONE  all land in the A-1 (Agricultural zoning district), including your land.


Any downzoning of your land will significantly reduce the value of your land, depending on the severity of the downzoning. For example: If they increase the current 3 acre minimum lot size, in place for the last 50 years in Stafford County, to say 5 acres minimum lot size, your land value will be reduced by  45% approximately from its current value.  This is because the number of lots that can be built on your land will be similarly reduced  (For example: a 100 acre tract of land, usually will yield approximately 30 lots  - now with 5 acre minimum size it will yield only approx. 17 lots and the development costs will also go up per lot by approx. 33%.)  This combination of loss of lots and increased development cost, would likely make it uneconomical to subdivide, resulting in the severe reduction in your land value. 


The Board is having a meeting to unveil this idea on Jan. 22, 2019 at 7:00 pm at the Stafford county admin building. PLEASE come and voice your concern to the BOS after listening to their discussion. The meeting will last about two hours. You should also call your district Supervisor, and the other Supervisors as well and your planning commissioners immediately if you agree with us that this is a bad idea. Tell them their proposal is an outrageous taking of our land rights and diminishment of property values.


If you were thinking of using your land as a retirement “nest egg” or to convey it to your heirs as a long term asset of your family, this downzoning will undermine your financial plans

Please help us help you by doing the following:


1. Call and write your Supervisor who runs your district  (and other Board members as well) and you’re your Planning Commission members (for your district), and register your complaint directly with them and also email them expressing your concern.       (Board and Commission members contact information is attached. on pages 2 and 3) 


2. Attend  the initial meeting on Jan. 22nd 2019 at 7:00 pm, and all subsequent meetings;  plan to speak at the meetings when you have an opportunity to do so. 


3. Come to a  Landowner Town Meeting to discuss this issue with our experts and legal counsel and sign our petition to be sent to the Board. These meetings will be announced on this website at a later date.


4. Continue checking our website and learn more about this issue and keep in touch with updated meeting times and locations.


Help us block this Board’s latest effort to change the rules to our detriment.  Protect your property values by saving your development rights.


We are private citizens who reside in Stafford County, VA. We are very concerned about a proposed Stafford County Board of Supervisors downzoning action on A-1 zoned land & its negative impact on property values & property taxes for all county residents.


We are also concerned that this downzoning targets and discriminates against the elderly, whom are the longest standing residents in this county. They are the predominant owners of rural land in this county as well (the very areas where this downzoning will hit the hardest).


We support private property rights & managed growth that does not rob Stafford County citizens of their investment in & ownership rights of private land as well as free speech and equal justice for all residents of this fine community.