Rural Land

Retaining the rural areas for agriculture and protecting scenic, rural beauty of our community are agreed-upon goals for most residents in Albemarle County. But how do we meet those goals while meeting others? My opponent suggests changing land-use policy will do the trick. Sounds harmless. But let’s examine it more carefully.

  • With about 8,000 unbuilt residential dwelling units already approved by the County inside the County’s development area, it is unclear how much more loosening is needed. Letting developers turn farms into subdivisions may help someone’s profits but it is no guarantee that the houses produced will sell for less than the going market prices. It should also be noted that new homes are built every year in the rural areas, just not with the allowed density of the urban ring.
  • Albemarle faces challenges in affordable housing but a bargain-sounding house that is in former farmland, remote from jobs, services and transportation options is a false bargain for the new homeowner. The way to a bright economic future for our community is to invest in making the areas where people live have the safety, services, and amenities for a good quality of life, not spread problems wider over the map.
  • The Land Use Taxation program my opponent argues against is an effective tool allowing landowners to farm and to stave off residential sprawl into rural areas. The program is sometimes criticized because some people cheat and claim the credit without farming the land. The Board of Supervisors has instituted a revalidation program and hired a new assessor to rout out the bad actors. However the majority of landowners taking advantage of the program are honest and responsible. They pay full rate on their house and 2 surrounding acres. In addition, if they come out of the program and develop the property, they must pay 5 years of back taxes. “Cows don’t go to school” is a motto that hints at the value to taxpayers of keeping rural lands, rural: farmed lands don’t need schools or other services that a development on those acres would need.
  • Incentives for conservation easements, such as Albemarle’s Acquisition of Conservation Easements, contrary to my opponent’s argument against them (Daily Progress opinion piece, Sept.2016), are one of Virginia’s best tools to help preserve and protect our rural countryside. Albemarle’s program is unusual in using a sliding-scale to qualify recipients, so public funds (state and local) are carefully targeted to help moderate and low income farmers keep their land and assure its future conservation.
  • Strangely enough, putting land into conservation easements and converting private land to public parks, has helped reduce what the County taxpayers pay the City in revenue sharing even while property values have gone up. Taking land off the residential market with an easement reduces the land’s taxable value.
  • Proposing to loosen land-use policies suggests we should forget that land lost to a subdivision is lost forever. Land protected by voluntary easements will be here to provide future generations with farmland, forestland, natural habitat, clean air and water, recreation areas, and the dramatic scenic views that have drawn so many past generations to call this place home.