Letter to the Editor: Purchase of development rights is inefficient way to preserve land


In 1971, our Virginia General Assembly enacted a law for the farming community to participate in a land use taxation program. The program is based on the concept that raw land requires less services than buildings and thus should be taxed at a lower rate.

Qualification for special assessments (land use) include agriculture, horticulture, forestry and open space uses. Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors passed the ordinance in 1979. Specific details include: proper land-use planning and orderly development of real estate, conservation of natural resources, prevention of soil erosion, protection of water supplies and scenic natural beauty. Support for this program keeps farming costs low. The lower land use tax is incentive to buy and run a farm.

I support the land use tax breaks for the farming community. Although, there is significant paperwork involved for the participant and county regarding quota qualifications for agricultural use that pertains only to commercial farm operations. Subsistence (or personal) farming does not qualify for lower taxation under the current ordinance.

In 2010, the Board of Supervisors adopted a major rural rezoning and subdivision ordinance which restricted a farmer’s ability to subdivide property in agricultural zoning. In 2011, the board voted to fund a Conservation Easement Authority for the purchase of development rights.

Purchase of development rights is a very expensive and inefficient way to preserve county farm land and its reach is limited to a favored few.

We would much rather see eligible land increased through the elimination of the quotas and change the definition to include personal farming in addition to commercial enterprises. Failure to meet a quota under the current regulations results in rollback taxes and an inability to participate in the program for five years even though the land has not changed use. This can occur regardless of cause, whether drought, flood, or physical calamity to a farmer owner or lessee.

Shenandoah County’s Conservation Easement Authority, headed by Supervisor Dennis Morris, spent $719,000 including $100,000 of local taxpayer money on the project for one affluent property owner. The authority committee is now out of money and will promote its own fund-raising efforts. Herein is the most disturbing factor of all. Will the current Board of Supervisors back the authority if fund-raising falls short with bond initiatives or a specific tax increase? This would fit in with their current spending habits and disregard for county taxpayers even though taxes have been raised in each of the last two years.

While I support the farming community, I do not support the purchase of development rights program.

Marsha Shruntz, Strasburg