Albemarle County is closing in on 9,000 acres permanently protected from development through its Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) program with the recent enrollment of Mt. Eagle Farm. Mt. Eagle is a 324 acre property with 6,900 feet along the Rivanna River, approximately 250 acres of fertile bottomland, 9,000 feet adjoining other easements, and 1,000 feet of frontage on Route 53, a major entrance corridor, making it an exceptionally valuable property to protect. These factors contributed to Mt. Eagle scoring as the second highest applicant in the program’s history.
Since the program’s inception in 2000, the County has acquired 46 easements totaling 8,992 acres while eliminating 488 development rights on those properties through its ACE program. The program has resulted in the preservation of a significant number of family farms while providing an important source of income to help reduce debt, acquire new equipment, and generally make improvements to the property.
“Mt. Eagle farm is clearly one of the best easement acquisitions we’ve ever made,” said McChesney Goodall, Ace Program Coordinator. “With over one mile of frontage on the Rivanna River and numerous building sites overlooking the river and surrounding farmland, this historic property could easily have fallen into the hands of a developer. I really want to thank property owner Carol Sweeney for being so steadfast in keeping this property whole, despite significant financial pressure. It is a great tribute to her and her unyielding desire to preserve this special place for future generations.”
The ACE program was established by the Board of Supervisors in 2000 in response to expanding development pressure from growth and urbanization in the rural area. It was designed to provide a financially attractive way for landowners of modest means to protect family farms in Albemarle County and their unique open space resources. It represents an opportunity for landowners to voluntarily sell a conservation easement to a public agency to be held in trust for perpetuity. Conservation easements allow landowners to retain ownership of their land and to continue farming it and managing the timber, however, they limit property division, sale of development rights, and size and number of new dwellings. Since easements are permanent and run with the land, they provide a lasting benefit to the public through the protection of open space, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, air and water quality, and resources of historical, cultural and ecological significance.
The ACE evaluation process system scores and ranks properties by 17 different criteria that measure conservation value including: 1) open space resources (such as size of parcel and whether it joins a permanently protected area); 2) threat of conversion to development and; 3) natural, cultural, historical or scenic resources (such as mountaintops, working family farms, important viewsheds, scenic highways and rivers, watersheds, productive soils and historically significant properties). Any property that scores a minimum of 20 points is eligible for consideration, however, properties in the applicant pool with the highest point total have the highest priority. Mt. Eagle Farm received nearly 72 points, the 2nd highest score in the program’s history.
For more information about the ACE program, visit www.ablemarle.org/ace.