Policy Update

Seek and Ye Shall Find: An Update on the Virginia Treasures Initiative

I write today to provide an update on the Virginia Treasures initiative: On Thursday, December 15, 2016, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced in a press release that his goal of preserving 1,000 “Virginia Treasures” had been reached a full year ahead of schedule. This announcement has received limited press so far—I’ve only seen stories from WTKR (Channel 3 in Norfolk) and the Augusta Free Press, and these stories mostly just regurgitate the press release. Let’s take a closer look.

A Focus on Treasures Both Large and Small

As I previously reported when it was first launched, the Virginia Treasures initiative focuses on preserving two categories of land, specifically “land conservation treasures” and “natural, cultural, and recreational treasures.” Under the initiative, land can be protected either by outright conveyance of the land or by conveyance of a conservation easement. The initiative is administered through the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

The Virginia Treasures initiative is a way of focusing on the quality of land protected, rather than the sheer number of acres. Previously, Gov. McAuliffe had announced a goal of preserving 400,000 acres during his term, which ends in January 2018. However, it soon became clear that this acreage-based goal inadvertently discouraged the protection of smaller, but still important, properties. The Virginia Treasures initiative was designed to rectify that by focusing on the number of properties preserved instead of the acreage.

A New Focus on Urban Historic Sites

What I did not foresee at the time, but has now become clear, is that the Virginia Treasures initiative also shifted the focus somewhat from preserving rural open space to preserving urban historic sites. At the time of writing this post, the official webpage listing all of the Virginia Treasures protected to date describes 391 of the 1,002 listed properties—or 39%—as qualifying by virtue of designation by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Most of these historic properties—specifically 259 properties, or nearly 26% of the 1,002 “treasures”—are located within city limits. The majority of these urban historic sites are located in the City of Richmond.

Aside from the 259 urban historic sites, another 39 “treasures” are located within city limits. Almost all of these other properties are described as being recreational. Thus, 298 “treasures”—nearly 30% of the 1,002 listed—are located in cities.

Note that I am using the word “city” in its technical, legal sense. The webpage listing the Virginia Treasures distinguishes between cities and counties; however, it does not provide enough detail to indicate which of those properties are located in the larger towns (which by definition are located inside counties). As an example, the 298 “treasures” located within city limits do not include the seven “treasures” located in Arlington County, although surely many of those properties qualify as being urban properties. Thus, probably well in excess of 300 “treasures” are urban properties.

My point is that, under the Virginia Treasures initiative, urban properties seem to have gained prominence. Urban properties are almost inevitably smaller properties and likely would have been de-emphasized under Gov. McAuliffe’s previous 400,000-acre goal.

The Future of the Virginia Treasures Initiative

Although the goal of protecting 1,000 “treasures” has been met, the Virginia Treasures program will continue to accept applications. (More details are provided in Gov. McAuliffe’s press release, which, again, you can read here.) I presume that the Virginia Treasures initiative will remain running until at least the end of Gov. McAuliffe’s term in January 2018, at which time he will issue the obligatory press release announcing how many properties his administration was able to protect. When he does, you can be sure to read about it here.

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Derrick P. Fellows

Derrick P. Fellows is an attorney with Hawthorne & Hawthorne, P.C. in Victoria, Virginia. Follow him on Twitter at @dpfellows.