Landowners’ rights protected, Farm Bureau chief says

Published 9:09 am Wednesday, November 14, 2012


FRANKLIN—Southampton County Farm Bureau President Gary Cross believes the fact that 75 percent of Virginians supported an amendment protecting landowners’ rights during the Nov. 6 election speaks volumes.

“It speaks volumes to the fact that the majority of the public still believes that landowners should be able to own something free and clear,” Cross said.

The amendment sought to narrowly define when the government can use eminent domain to seize private property.

In Western Tidewater, 82 percent of voters supported the amendment by a vote of 26,549 to 5,866. Franklin voters supported the measure 3,201 to 708, Southampton County 7,706 to 1,409 and Isle of Wight County 15,642 to 3,749.

Cross feels the amendment is fair because it will take into account the value of the land and someone’s livelihood.

“Now you can say, ‘hey this is my retirement. I was banking on it to produce ‘X’ amount of dollars over this time span,’” he said.

Cross believes for those who have had land in their family for generations can rest easier knowing it won’t be used for development.

“Land to some people doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “It’s just property that you buy and sell; whereas many of us landowners out there have ties to the land,” Cross said.

In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly determined that private property could be taken to create more jobs, revenue or tax base.

“I believe the unfairness of the original law was that a city council or a board of supervisors could come in and say ‘we can get more taxes off of this piece of land for another use’ and take it based on that wavier,” Cross said.

The amendment now requires all government and private condemning authorities to assure that any eminent domain is for public purposes, not for private gain. It also requires that property owners be paid fair market value for their land, limits a taking to land necessary for the public purpose and requires compensation to landowners for lost business and access.

“If you’re compensated fairly, it will be better than just getting what they give you and you have to take what you get,” said Blackcreek farmer Thurman Munford Jr. “That part is a plus.”

Amanda Jarratt, president and chief operating officer for Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc., feels the amendment strengthens laws in place.

The proposal was on the ballot in part due to the work from Farm Bureaus throughout Virginia.

“All farmers depend on their land for their livelihood,” said Wayne Pryor, president of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “The amendment to Virginia’s constitution that voters approved will help protect their property rights.”

Pryor believes that in an eminent domain dispute the amendment tilts the scales back in favor of the landowner.

“For many years that hasn’t been the case,” Pryor said.