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Landowner cites high taxes in rezoning bid

Robert Whitehurst Jr.

A Mount Jackson property owner who pushed a possible “mega site” for industrial development now wants to put the land back into farm use.

Robert Whitehurst Jr. recently submitted an application to the town to rezone 136 acres he owns in the corporate limits from industrial to agricultural use. Specifically, Whitehurst Development seeks to change the use of five parcels through the rezoning. The process, sometimes referred to as “downzoning,” would affect the density and allowable uses for the property.

Whitehurst had the property rezoned from agricultural to limited industrial use a few years ago, Town Manager Kevin Fauber said Monday. Town Council plans to hear about Whitehurst’s application at its meeting tonight. Whitehurst applied for the rezoning June 20. The council would need to hold a public hearing on the application before taking action.

Whitehurst continues to use the property as farmland, the owner notes on his application. But Whitehurst comments that he expects any development of the land to take time and, in the meantime, taxes on the property remain high. Whitehurst pays taxes on the total assessment of $5.8 million. The rezoning application covers a 70.2-acre parcel assessed at $2.8 million; 36.3 acres at $1.45 million; a 7.5-acre parcel assessed at $636,300; two acres valued at $100,000; 20 acres at $800,200.

Downzoning the property back to agricultural use would allow Whitehurst to apply to the county Commissioner of the Revenue to put the parcels back into land-use taxation. The voluntary program allows property owners to receive a break on their real estate taxes through a significant reduction in the land’s assessment. In exchange for the tax break, owners must use the property for agricultural purposes and abide by certain restrictions in the program. The owner must pay five years worth of “rollback” taxes – the amount deferred through the program – if the county removes the property from land-use taxation, either through voluntary rezoning or for failure to follow the rules. Whitehurst paid thousands of dollars in rollback taxes to the county after he rezoned hundreds of acres of property from agriculture to industrial.

Whitehurst sparked controversy several years ago when he applied to annex hundreds of acres of property he owned into the corporate limits. He promoted the annexation, and likely eventual rezoning of the property from agricultural to industrial use, as a way to create a “mega site” for future development. Vocal opponents living near the site that included the 136 acres already in town expressed fear that any large industrial use of the property would create negative effects such as increased truck traffic in the area. Supporters including council members who eventually supported the annexation, said the town needs more land for industrial users to bring better-paying jobs to the area.

A fraction of the annexed property could serve as the site of a solar-power generation facility. Town leaders last year approved a permit to allow for such a project to move forward. However, the state required more work on the part of the applicants, Virginia Solar, before the project could receive the green light. A representative with the solar energy company said recently he expects to hear back from the state soon.

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