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Changes to county zoning districts could end tax breaks for some

Some additional rural area property owners might have their properties removed from Albemarle County’s agricultural-forestal districts, a decision that could mean the owners would have to pay full taxes on their land.

County staff has been recommending five-year renewal periods — instead of the usual 10 years — for districts that include parcels that are enrolled in the open-space use valuation tax category and that have no small-lot development rights, after the Board of Supervisors supported changes in 2019.

On Tuesday, the county Planning Commission recommended approval of renewal for two agricultural-forestal districts. The Batesville District, which has four parcels in the Open Space tax category with no development rights, was recommended for a five year renewal, while the High Mowing District was recommended for a 10-year renewal.

“The issue we had for many years was that we had parcels joining the ag-forestal districts that had no real development potential, that were giving up the right to subdivide, technically, but they couldn’t be subdivided anyway,” said Senior Planner Scott Clark. “They’re using that membership in the district to qualify for a lower tax rate that’s meant to be for land conservation.’’

If the Batesville District renewal is ultimately 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.

Clark said the agricultural-forestal districts and use-value taxation are two separate matters, but the state code does connect them.

“It’s not an issue with the districts themselves, it was a tax issue where people would join the ag-forestal districts, write on the tax form, ‘I’m in an ag-forestal district, I qualify for the open-space tax rate,’” he said. “Well that was true, but probably if they weren’t giving up any development potential we were giving a tax benefit for conservation that wasn’t happening.

Planning Commissioner Karen Firehock said she thought the parcels should stay in the district.

“While it is not the Planning Commission’s job to make policy, that’s the job of the Board of Supervisors, I still believe that parcels should be able to remain in the district, even if they have no development rights, because the district supports a higher purpose simply then preventing existing development rights from being realized,” she said.

The Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, which owns a 136 acres parcel in the Batesville District, has requested to withdraw it. CVEC told county staff that it intends to apply for a special use permit for a utility-scale solar energy system on that land.

“They didn’t particularly want to come out, but there’s a legal reason why only certain uses can really be found to be compliant within ag-forestal districts, so they are removing that so that they can proceed with a special-use permit,” Clark said.

It would be possible — if a special-use permit is approved — that after the solar farm is decommissioned, it could return to the district, he said.

During the public hearing, Rory Carpenter, who said he lived on a property adjacent to the Batesville District, and had wanted to be in the district but didn’t meet the acreage requirement. He said he was supportive of the district’s renewal.

“..It might seem self serving for me to be speaking in favor of the renewal but I truly believe that benefits all county citizens to have rural areas such as this, to preserve the air water and ground quality of our county,” he said.


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