On May 14, 2008, the Lane Auditorium at the County Office Building was packed with residents interested in the

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors’

discussion of the

land use taxation program

.  In their afternoon work session, the Board unanimously directed staff to begin planning for a

revalidation program

for property receiving the land use tax subsidy, a program which lowers the tax burden for land used for agriculture, open space and forestry.  Determining whether to make other adjustments to the program revealed a diversity of viewpoints on the Board.  Ultimately, by a 4-2 vote (Boyd and Dorrier against), the Supervisors decided to hold another work session this Summer on one potential change to the program.  All Board members made it clear that they want the land use taxation program to continue in Albemarle County.


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While they did not get an opportunity to speak to the board, the public in attendance did make their opinions known.  Despite being warned by

Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna)

to show respect for all Board member viewpoints, there was an occasional outburst of applause for any expression of support for the status quo that demonstrated that the majority of those in attendance had concerns about the Board’s potential tinkering with the program.


As of 2008, 59.8% of the land in Albemarle County is enrolled in land use, which includes parcels in both the rural area and growth areas (where undeveloped).  That results in deferred taxes of $18.78 million this year.  Land use is viewed by County officials as one strategic tool for protecting the County’s rural fields, farms, and forests.  However, some Supervisors and members of the public have encouraged the Board to take another look at the program to see if it is accomplishing that goal most effectively.

Revalidation is one way to address real and perceived abuses of the program and it has been considered by the Board, but not implemented, three times since 2001. Revalidation will require property owners to confirm on an annual basis that their property still meets the program’s requirements.  The Supervisors directed staff to bring back a formal revalidation proposal and sample documentation for consideration at a meeting in June 2008.

The lengthier discussion related to the merits of tinkering with the program to allow use value taxation only on parcels with the “open space” designation and which are located in agricultural/forestal districts.  The discussion ultimately focused on what is known as

“Option 2” from the Board’s 2001 land use report

.  This approach, as presented in 2001, would: 1) effectively eliminate land use from the County’s growth areas; 2) require property owners to place their land in an ag/forestal district and qualify for the open space designation; and 3) require a commitment from the property owner to not develop their land for 4-10 years, or permanently protect it with a conservation easement.  The Board did not get into an in-depth discussion of these details, and decided that work would be the focus of a future work session.



Supervisor

David Slutzky (Rio)

expressed a preference for having a citizen committee conduct an in-depth assessment of the land use program to bring recommendations back to the public and the Board.  “I definitely don’t want to eliminate the land use tax program, because I do think it provides a value to the community,” said Slutzky.  “For me, the intended purpose is to motivate property owners in the rural area to preserve the use of property in its natural state.”

Slutzky suggested a committee could evaluate ideas like requiring conservation easements to access the land use program.  Slutzky said his concern about the current system was that some property owners, those who intend to sell their rural land for future development, were getting subsidized by making their “holding costs on the land cheaper on an annual basis.”

That proposal was vigorously opposed by

Ken Boyd (Rivanna)

. “I don’t think that this is something we need to take this community through. I really do not think that we have a program that is broken.  I think we have a program that is very beneficial to preserving land use,” said Boyd. “Every time we start tweaking with these things we always end up with unintended consequences….I don’t want to drag this community through what I think would be a gut wrenching discussion of the pros and cons…”


Ann Mallek (White Hall)

said she preferred to see what the revalidation program revealed before making further adjustments.

Slutzky focused his remarks on encouraging the Board to determine if land use, as currently defined, was optimally designed to achieve rural protection goals.  Boyd reflected that the public has told him they do not want their land locked up in conservation easements, or other non-development commitments, in exchange for the tax break.



Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville)

said he thought land use was a popular program that has worked well and deserves continued support.

Borrowing from the suggestions of

Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller)

,

Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett)

made a motion to study further the Option 2 recommendation first brought to the Board in 2001.  A citizen committee would not be involved in this review.  He asked for a work session on that matter after which the Board would vote to determine whether to send the matter to the community for a public hearing.  Thomas said she was not committed to supporting the approach in Option 2, but that she thought it would be helpful to have the public focus their comments on this one item.

The motion passed 4-2 with Boyd and Dorrier voting against.  County Executive Bob Tucker did not give a date for the work session, but said staff would bring back information on land use revalidation at one of the Board’s meetings in June 2008.

Brian Wheeler

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