Benefits of Agricultural and Forestal Districts

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Section 15.2-4312 of the Code of Virginia identifies four main benefits of Agricultural and Forestal Districts:

  • Land lying within a district and used in agricultural or forestal production automatically qualifies for an agricultural or forestal use-value assessment whether or not a local ordinance establishing a land use program has been established. This land must still meet the minimum requirements to qualify for land use taxation. 
  • Local governments may not enact local laws or ordinances within a district which would unreasonably restrict or regulate farm structures or farming and forestry practices. Local ordinances, comprehensive plans, land use planning decisions, administrative decisions and procedures affecting parcels of land adjacent to any district shall take into account the existence of such district and the purposes of this chapter. 
  • Local, state, and federal agencies must take into consideration the existence of a district when developing and implementing policy. This policy must promote agriculture and forestry within the district. 
  • Special taxes for services cannot be levied on most property within a district.

There are additional benefits of the Ag/Forestal District program. These different benefits can be broken down into benefits for the landowners who choose to enter the program and benefits for the community as a whole. Benefits to the landowners include:

  • Districts provide protection for up to ten years and can be renewed after the initial term expires 
  • Participation offers some protection from eminent domain 
  • Acquisition of land or easements for power lines, roadways, and other infrastructure within a district is subject to review by the Board to determine whether or not it will adversely affect the district 
  • Districts prohibit the expenditure of public funds for non-farm related purposes within a district except when a public service corporation or public agency files a notice of intent with the Board – the Board must then determine whether or not this expenditure would threaten the district 
  • Property in the district is protected from ordinances that might limit customary farming and forestry practices 
  • Districts must be taken into account by local planners when proposing ordinance or zoning changes 
  • Districts establish a community where like-minded individuals band together to preserve farming, forestry, and open land

In addition to these benefits are those for the community as a whole. They include:

  • Districts help protect productive farm, forest, and other open space lands which contribute significantly to a community’s rural appeal and character 
  • Districts help protect surface and ground water supplies as well as other natural resources such as wildlife 
  • Districts facilitate the efficient provision of local government services by helping concentrate new development in and around existing communities where services can be provided in the most cost-effective manner