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Planning Commission Sets Jan. 26 Hearing On 19 AFD Applications

Halifax County Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday, Jan. 26, at 7 p.m. on 19 agricultural and forestal district (AFD) applications referred by the AFD Advisory Committee. Commissioners also are asking the board of supervisors to hold similar public hearings on the 19 AFD applications at its Monday, Feb. 1, regular monthly meeting.

The AFD Advisory Committee referred the following  AFD applications to the planning commission and board of supervisors for public hearings:
Strange – 352.08 acres; Bull Creek – 239.9 acres; Crews – 475.2 acres; Barker/Staunton – 2,167.14 acres; Barker/Roanoke – 378.94 acres with the following contingency: PRN #6525 (1.83 acres) must be removed since parcel is solely residential; Falkland Farms – 7,765 acres; and Peak/Staunton – 616.82 acres.
Other AFD applications referred include Rickman/Talley – 400.93 acres; The Cove – 2,563.16 acres; Birchland Farm – 503.25 acres; Starkey – 236.17 acres; McLane – 275.22 acres with the following contingency: PRN #15659 (two acres) must be removed since parcel is solely residential; Railroad and Difficult Creek – 577.67 acres; Delia/Calvary – 790.16 acres; Mill Road – 406 acres; Turbeville/Solomon – 1,881.52 acres; Rodgers Chapel Road – 1,784.37 acres; Holland Farm – 246.52 acres; and Riverbirch – 511.03 acres.

Supervisors adopted an ordinance in June that enabled the establishment of AFDs here.

In August supervisors appointed eight at-large members to serve with ED-2 Supervisor Tom West and Commissioner of Revenue Brenda Powell on the AFD Advisory Committee.

Serving on that committee are eight at-large members including Carl Espy and Reynold “Buster” D’Amato, both of Halifax; Page Wilkerson and James Solomon, both of Alton; Henry Murray of Virgilina; Kevin A. Hodges of South Boston; and Ronnie Waller and Richard “Dick” Conner, both of Alton.

Wilkerson serves as chairman and D’Amato as vice-chairman.

The AFD Advisory Committee met Dec. 3 and again on Dec. 15 before referring the 19 AFD applications to the planning commission and board of supervisors.
Applications for over 70 agricultural/forestal districts (AFDs) including approximately 38,000 acres met the Nov. 1 deadline for inclusion in the special tax designation program,  with the committee referring 19 of the 70 for further consideration.

The 10-member committee is required to meet and screen all applications, recommend applications to the planning commission and board of supervisors, with both bodies holding public hearings on each application.

Also as part of the process, the committee is required to notify adjoining landowners on selection of the sites.

Last year board members took the first step to enacting a proposal for AFDs in Halifax County when they asked for the establishment of an enabling ordinance to specify criteria, application process, and procedures governing the creation of an AFD.

By unanimously adopting the AFD enabling ordinance, supervisors now offer farmers and landowners a means to alleviate increasing real estate assessments and the resulting taxes, insuring the sustainability of an industry that contributes approximately $250 million to the local economy, according to proponents.

In the past, land-use tax advocates had complained that little was being done to preserve and sustain the local agricultural and forestal industry.

A total of 77 out of 95 counties in the state, or 81 percent, have either land use or ag and forestal districts or both.

In preparing the AFD proposal for the board of supervisors last year, Halifax County’s agricultural development director said the value of agricultural land has been escalating at an alarming rate in recent years prompting the need for the creation of AFDs.

For example, land assessment on a 40-acre parcel has increased from $43,349 to $90,431 or 108 percent in a five-year period.

Halifax County currently has 114,000 acres of farmland with agricultural production netting approximately $28 million in cash receipts annually with an economic impact totaling $110,896,000, according to 2002 USDA Ag Census figures.

The Virginia Department of Forestry estimates the forest industry in Halifax County contributes $134,581,304 directly, $40,392,300 indirectly, and $21,142,402 through induced effects.

Halifax has approximately 273,000 acres of forestland that account for an overall contribution to the county’s economy of $196,116,967 annually.

Combined, forestry and agriculture within Halifax County have an economic impact totaling $334,736,067, according to county officials.

Agricultural and forestal districts were first established in 1977 as a voluntary agreement between one or more landowners and the local governing body to protect and enhance agricultural and forestal land as a viable segment of the economy and environmental resource of major importance.

The AFDs create voluntary rural conservation zones with an agreement between landowners and the county government for a four to 10-year term.

Halifax County AFDs are to be no less than 200 acres in one parcel or in contiguous parcels, and there is no minimum number of landowners or any maximum size.

The board also established a fee schedule not to exceed $500 for applications to create AFDs and applications to add land to an existing AFD.