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Changes to agricultural-forestal districts headed to Albemarle supervisors

More properties could be removed from Albemarle County’s agricultural-forestal districts in the future, a decision that could mean some owners will then have to pay full taxes on their properties.

As part of direction given by the Board of Supervisors, county staff has been recommending five-year renewal periods — instead of the customary 10 years — for districts that include parcels that are enrolled in the open-space use valuation tax category and that have no development rights.

On Tuesday, the county Planning Commission recommended approval of renewal for seven agricultural-forestal districts. Five of the districts — Buck Mountain District, Bucks Elbow Mountain, Fox Mountain District, Jacobs Run District and Sugar Hollow District — have a total of 12 parcels that are in open-space use valuation and have no development rights; these districts were recommended for five-year renewal.

If these renewals are approved by the Board of Supervisors, those who own properties in the open-space use valuation tax category that have no development rights will be notified that their properties could be removed from the districts in the future. The notification will explain how owners can avoid paying roll-back taxes.

Chalk Mountain District and Yellow Mountain were recommended for approval with a renewal period of 10 years.

Earlier this year, the board voted to notify the owners of 11 properties in the Hardware Agricultural-Forestal District that their properties could be removed from the district and explain how they can avoid paying roll-back taxes.

In September, the board voted 5-1 to renew four AFDs, including two with the five-year renewal period.

Planning Commissioner Karen Firehock said Tuesday that by focusing on the lack of development potential of properties, the county is “not upholding the spirit or letter of the law.”

“As a person who lives in the rural area and cares about the rural area, I am really, really upset about the way the county is going about this,” she said.

Scott Clark, an Albemarle senior planner, said property owners who join the districts give up their small-lot development rights and are subject to other restrictions while in the districts, but some properties were added to districts with no development rights and only qualify for the open-space use valuation tax category.

“The concern became that that wasn’t equitable to the people who were actually farming, actually doing forestry, actually doing open space protection and getting that conservation-related tax benefit — it wasn’t fair that other people whose land was already fully developed were getting that same benefit,” Clark said.

The commission also recommended approval for a request to amend a special-use permit for a previously approved solar-energy electrical generation facility, with solar panels occupying approximately 90 acres on a 149-acre parcel to extend expiration time by three years to 2023.

The solar project on Buck Island Road was approved in March 2018, but the approval process with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is ongoing and construction will not begin by the county permit’s 2020 deadline.

Earlier this year, Apex Clean Energy bought the project, but nothing else has changed.

The commission also had its last of four work sessions on the development of a form-based code for the Rio Road-U.S. 29 area.

The Rio29 Small Area Plan was adopted by the board in December, and the implementation chapter of the plan includes a recommendation to create a form-based code as one way to achieve the plan’s vision.

Commissioners on Tuesday gave feedback on a draft framework and recommended that form-based code be an optional overlay zoning district instead of replacing the current base zoning in the area.

The draft framework and Planning Commission recommendations will be presented to the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 18.


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