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Supervisors vote to shorten renewal interval on some agricultural districts

Some Albemarle County property owners who benefit from a tax break for land designated as open space and with no development rights will have their parcels reevaluated for the program on a tighter interval, county supervisors decided Wednesday.

The property owners will be notified that their land could be removed from agricultural-forestal districts that carry the open-space designation, and would pay higher taxes as a result.

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, as directed by the Board of Supervisors.

The board voted 5-1 to renew seven agricultural-forestal districts, with Supervisor Liz Palmer casting the dissenting vote. 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.

The notification that the land could be removed from the tax program also will explain how owners can avoid paying roll-back taxes.

Chalk Mountain District and Yellow Mountain were approved with a renewal period of 10 years.

Supervisor Ann Mallek said the county still has work to do to find ways for open-space landowners to be eligible for agricultural-forestal districts.

“The soil and water conservation district has programs they can offer and they can also inspect so that there will not be a staff burden for the county, so we’ll work on that going forward,” she said.

Palmer said she spoke with one property owner who was possibly going to be removed from the Hardware district after a vote by the board earlier this year. He told Palmer he now is haying his property again, whereas he had been growing grasses and wildflowers.

“I would say that that haying operation is not better for the soils or the water quality,” she said.

During the public hearing, Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local business advocacy group, said the vote concerned the forum.

“I also understand what the board’s trying to do to maximize tax revenue from land that’s not generating or putting development rights at bay,” he said. “It’s a conflicted place. Your comprehensive plan talks about rural areas, let’s not fragment it. Agricultural-forestal districts help give you that. It provides wildlife habitat… you have a lot of rural areas and there is a level of protection being in an agricultural-forestal district, and it just seems wrong to punish a limited number of rural owners by forcing them out.”

Mallek said the intent is to not have property owners using the districts as a way to get access to land use value taxation when they don’t qualify.

“And it may be cumbersome and not perfect way to do it, but that was the best solution that [came] up after two years of work,” she said.

The board also approved 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.


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