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Conservation Easement Authority to mull over donation

By Sally Voth

Shenandoah County stands to receive a conservation easement worth an estimated $500,000.

The county's Conservation Easement Authority is considering whether to recommend the Board of Supervisors approve putting the 179-acre site, known as Island Ford Farm, into a conservation easement. Half of the parcel is considered prime farmland.

Brothers Larry and Gary Vance own the farm, which is south of Strasburg along the Shenandoah River -- and even includes an island that is about a mile in circumference, according to county planner Patrick Felling.

During an authority meeting Tuesday afternoon, Felling said the land had been appraised for a little more than $1 million, with an easement value of just shy of $500,000. The Vances would be giving up about half that value as a donation.

The brothers would get $82,500 from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation and $165,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm and Ranchland Protection Program in exchange for giving up development rights to the farm.

The Potomac Conservancy and the Natural Resources Conservation Service would hold the easement.

Emily Warner, land protection director for the Potomac Conservancy, said one of the Vance brothers works with beef cattle, while the other has a "very nice garden," and raises chickens and small donkeys. Open fields on the land are for hay or pasture, and row crops are occasionally grown, she said.

The site features more than a mile of river frontage, and more than 9,000 feet of road frontage.

Having all of that riverfront land in a conservation easement would be good news for water quality and protection, Felling said.

If protected by easement, excavation and mineral extraction would be prohibited, Warner said, and approval would be needed for agricultural buildings bigger than 4,000-square feet.

Felling said the site is adjacent to battlefield land. The acreage -- when not in easement -- could be subdivided into 16 parcels, he said.

"They would be giving up those rights," Felling said.

Having the large amount of road frontage makes that land even more valuable development-wise, he said.

The conservation easement authority was formed in 2007 and last year was allocated $100,000, which it still has in its coffers. That money can be used to leverage more funding in grants, Shenandoah County Community Development Director Brandon Davis said.

The authority is scheduled to tour the Island Ford Farm property on Dec. 19, and discussed voting on its recommendation at its next meeting, Jan. 2.

"Do you feel the board will be ready to accept our response in January?" authority member Cindy Dellinger asked District 5 Supervisor Dennis Morris.

"Possibly," Morris responded. "One came to us several months ago, and the board shot it down. Our board is very thorough."

Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or svoth@nvdaily.com


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