Reader commentary: Payment for land irresponsible

By Richard R. Walker

In December 2010, Shenandoah County passed a new zoning ordinance that effectively eliminated about 64 percent of the potential development of Agricultural (A-1) land in the county. Landowners were not paid for this loss of development rights nor were assessed values (and related taxes) lowered to account for the decrease in land value. Only one lot from a parcel is permitted to be subdivided every three years, and minimum lot size was decreased from 3.5 acres to 1.5 acres (or as low as 1 acre if cluster development was used).

The county now proposes to pay the owners of Pleasantdale Farm LLC an amount of $719,000 in taxpayer funds to prohibit a development that could use as little as 30 to 45 acres and take over 100 years (if ever) to reach fruition. The majority of the 300 acres is already protected from the type of development exemplified by the Fairview and Spring Hollow subdivisions. That type of development is prohibited under existing zoning laws. This purchase of development rights (not “accepting a conservation easement” which could be done without direct payment of taxpayer funds) actually results in a cost of $16,000 to $24,000 per acre not developed – or a payment of $25,000 per lot not developed – in direct payment of federal, state and local tax funds!

I support not taxing farmers off their land. Land-use taxation already results in Pleasantdale Farm LLC paying less than 10 percent of the taxes that would otherwise be due on the property (2012: $857 of $10,258 assessed).

I also support not taxing residents out of their homes and have long advocated an expansion of the tax relief program for the elderly, which is the lowest by far of all surrounding counties and is still not indexed for the Consumer Price Index as promised by the Board of Supervisors.

In a county that is struggling to afford necessary services and regularly increasing taxes on its citizens, a payment of this kind is irresponsible. I find it beyond belief that a citizenry that expresses belief in smaller, responsible government would condone such a waste of funds.

It has become obvious that our supervisors intend to make this purchase and have been encouraged to do so by misleading claims being spread by the Shenandoah Forum. I can only hope that those that really do believe in smaller, responsible government will let their voices be heard.

Richard R. Walker of Woodstock is a retired certified public accountant.