Agenda Item No. 2
Presenter: Blair Fitzsimons



The importance of protecting the heritage of Texas' farms and ranches.

January 28, 2016

Establishing A Purchase of Development Rights Program for Texas
By Blair Fitzsimons
Formerly, consultant for American Farmland Trust
Currently, CEO, Texas Agricultural Land Trust

In 2004, representatives from several statewide agricultural and landowner groups came together to discuss establishing a Purchase of Development Rights program for Texas. At the time, it was recognized that, while 97% of rural lands in Texas are in private ownership, the contribution of private lands for clean, abundant water or diverse wildlife habitat is often uncompensated. And when faced with development, estate taxes, or other pressures, many landowners had little choice but to sell, which was leading to accelerating land loss and fragmentation.

A voluntary Purchase of Development Rights program, as found at the time in approximately 20 other states, would slow the conversion of Texas' agricultural and natural resources to urban uses. Landowners would realize financial reward for successful management of critical natural resources that benefit the broader citizenry. With a looming water supply crisis, for example, financial incentives---not zoning and regulation---would help ranchers and farmers continue to conserve those natural resources that will facilitate Texas' future growth.

Under a PDR program, landowners would willingly---not through threat of regulation or condemnation---enter into an agreement with public or non-profit entities to restrict development of their land. PDR programs are based on the concept that a development right is a property right, like a mineral right, that can be severed from the land in order to protect it from future development. The landowner retains all other rights of ownership, including the right to use the land for agriculture, hunt, prevent trespass, sell, bequeath or otherwise transfer the land to others.

Selling development rights allows landowners to capture an asset (development value) that previously would have only been realized by selling the land. PDR programs reward landowners for good stewardship and provide financial incentives to continue farming or ranching. Furthermore, as the state of Texas and its cities plan for future growth, PDR programs keep lands in private hands and on the tax rolls while protecting critical resources, such as water and wildlife habitat, that provide public benefits.

History of PDR Initiative in Texas

In 2000, Governor Bush's Task Force on Conservation recommended a statewide PDR program as an incentive for private conservation. Specifically, the task force recommended that the state, “establish a state fund to provide grants to local governments and qualified nongovernmental agencies to buy development rights and support the local administration of Purchase of Development Rights programs.” The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department later adopted this recommendation in its 2002 strategic plan. In 2002, the House Land & Resource Management Committee, through its sub-committee on urban sprawl, recommended that Texas should develop the framework to make PDR an option to all interested parties in the future. In 2003, Texas A&M researchers produced a simulation model to determine the implications of establishing a PDR program in Texas.

In 2003, legislation was introduced to create a statewide PDR program. The bill failed to pass largely due to concerns from landowner groups that it favored the buyer (land trusts) over the seller (the landowner), and that legislative intent to protect farm and ranch land was not clear enough to prevent other interpretations. Other concerns included the lack of landowner representation on the oversight board and the lack of a term option. The bill passed out of committee, but died in calendars.

After much subsequent discussion among the agricultural, landowner and conservation groups, consensus was reached and legislation was again introduced in 2005. It was agreed that, because 97% of land in Texas is privately owned, conserving critical natural resources on working farms and ranches should be the primary goal of a statewide PDR program. Secondly, the oversight council would be comprised largely of members who either owned land or were associated with a statewide agricultural or landowner organization. Third, due to general wariness over the idea of perpetual conservation easements, it was agreed that the program should offer a choice between perpetual or term easements, as was found in some of the federal easement programs. And finally, it was agreed that, for the program to be effective, funding priorities, such as water and wildlife, should be identified in statute. The result was HB895 that created the Texas Farm & Ranch Lands Conservation Program.