Planning tables Agriculture-Forestal Districts until after budget is done

Published 12:38 pm Saturday, January 11, 2014

COURTLAND—The Southampton Planning Commission voted unanimously Thursday to table further discussion on Agriculture-Forestal Districts until the summer. The consensus was the issue could wait until the next fiscal year’s budget has been established.

Gary and Marguerite Cross at their hydroponic station in Zuni. Cross spoke on Agricultural and Forestal districts at the board meeting. -- FILE PHOTO

Gary and Marguerite Cross at their hydroponic station in Zuni. Cross spoke on Agricultural and Forestal districts at the board meeting. — FILE PHOTO

Before the decision, however, the members had a conversation about AFDs, with Beth Lewis, secretary, pointing out that Southampton County doesn’t have one. However, neighboring Isle of Wight County

AFDs are conservation areas set aside just for farming, growing and cultivating timber and maintaining land, as explained in one definition provided by Augusta County in the commissioners’ packet.

Further, in such districts – which are voluntary – the landowner won’t make any conversions to commercial, industrial or residential use for a set period of years, such as four to 10 in Augusta. Both the local governing body and state will leave the landowner alone and neither pressure nor compel the landowner to allow the aforementioned development.

Lewis noted that the Planning Commission could become an AFD board provided at least four members are involved in agriculture or forestry in the county.

“This doesn’t really stop eminent domain,” said Southampton County Attorney Richard Railey about creating an AFD locally. “It just puts in another step.”

Michael Drake, one of the commissioners, asked how all landowners would be notified if the county adopts such a district. Railey said the county government’s website and advertising in The Tidewater News could get the word out.

Invited to speak on the issue was Gary Cross, a farmer and landowner in the county.

“The Farm Bureau was the first trying to get Agriculture-Forestal Districts,” said Cross. “I really would like to see this happen. At the same time, I worry that Agriculture-Forestal Districts could come at the expense of the board of supervisors or planning commission. The next few months might not be the best time.”

Commissioner Jack Randall said that agriculture is the county’s character, and made the motion to table discussion following the budget issue. He also said that getting information on AFDs gradually would be helpful.

In other matters:

* Following a public hearing and discussion, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to adopt amendment to the county code in regard to height limits of antennae support structures for telecommunication towers. Dr. Alan Edwards, a commissioner, said, “This [ordinance] is better than the one we have now. It may limit the number of towers, but we still maintain complete control.” To which Randall concurred. However, Michael Mann expressed concern about the issue. “The word ‘if’ has been used an awful lot. I think we’re going backward. I hope that the ‘ifs’ will work themselves out.” Drake reminded everyone that this will be a case-by-case policy.