County Considering Law For Protecting Farmland
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That point will become clear if Moore County adopts a proposed voluntary agricultural district (VAD) ordinance.
County leaders have been discussing the concept for more than two years, but now the Board of Commissioners has called a public hearing for Aug. 21 to consider the ordinance and possibly take action.
"Yes, of course. Goodness, yes," said Nowell Brown, chairman of the Moore County Soil and Water Conservation Board of Super-visors, when asked if he would participate in a voluntary agricultural district.
Brown raises poultry, grain and other crops on a farm in the House in the Horseshoe community.
"You can get in and you can get out, but we need to do it as soon as possible," Brown said.
Brown said residential, resort and commercial developments are rapidly filling up Moore County, and a VAD ordinance is one way to retain the rural flavor that has made the community so attractive to development.
Preserving Rural Flavor
The ordinance cannot keep development out of a rural community, but it can offer some protections to farmers who want to continue tilling their land.
For one thing, if a residential development moves in adjacent to a poultry farm, the new property owners cannot apply pressure with complaints about farming activities.
Alice Caviness, administrative coordinator for the conservation district, said landowners will receive notification when efforts are under way to buy adjacent farmland for development purposes.
Farmland owners cannot prevent the sale of this property, but they can take advantage of public hearings and other legal measures to protect their own property. In addition, it can help farmers stave off pressure from outside sources wanting to buy their land for non-farm uses.
Caviness said the ordinance can also protect farmland owners from nuisance suits filed by neighbors who object to such things as odor from fertilizer, provided, of course, that the farmer is not breaking the law.
"The ordinance doesn't keep a farmer from selling to a developer, but it does encourage farmers to keep their land as farmland," Caviness said.
Other benefits include public hearings for proposed condemnations, consideration in the land development review process, eligibility for Farmland Preservation Funds and waiver of water and sewer assessments.
Brown credits Glenn Bradley, a former conservation board member, with the impetus on the VAD ordinance.
County Planning Director Andrea Surratt, in her presentation to the Planning Board, likened the VAD ordinance to a historical district in a municipality.
"Our land-use plan does definitely support this type of ordinance," Surratt said.
The land-use plan adopted in the late 1990s describes preservation and protection of the rural agricultural nature of the county as its first goal. Objectives within that goal include keeping farmland for farming and forest land for forestry and careful management of development in rural areas. It also provides for preservation of small businesses in rural areas.
David J. Cummings, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, endorsed the proposal when the board voted to call the public hearing.
"It's something a lot of people are excited about," said Cummings, who is also a farmer.
One key selling point is the emphasis on the voluntary aspect of the program. Although participants are asked to sign 10-year agreements, they are not penalized if there is a change of mind before the 10 years end. The agreement can be revoked upon written request by the property owner.
To join the program, the property owner must operate the land as a working farm, including participation in the present-use value taxation program. Also required is certification of soils for farm use by the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Present-use value is the term that applies to the valuation of land used for farming purposes but subject to higher valuations because of adjacent land used for other purposes, such as golf and resort development. The system helps to retain the usually lower valuation on farmland.
Participants would be subject to a conservation agreement prohibiting nonfarm uses or development for at least 10 years. Nevertheless, the agreement would be voluntary and the farmer could revoke it at any time by submitting a written request.
Under the plan, a seven-member advisory board would be appointed to review and approve applications, conduct public hearings and advise the Board of Commissioners on projects affecting agriculture.
Proposed districts would encompass five acres for horticultural use, 10 acres for general agriculture, and 20 acres for forestry.
VADs were authorized in 1985 when North Carolina adopted the Farmland Preservation Enabling Act. To date, 39 of North Carol-ina's 100 counties have adopted VAD ordinances, which apply to 2,675 farms with 204,642 acres. Among the counties with VAD ordinances are Chatham, Wake, Durham, Franklin, Orange, Guil-ford, Randolph and Alamance.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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