Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Dorchester County is considering creating “voluntary agricultural districts” to protect farmland.
Council didn’t spend much time Monday discussing the idea; instead, council members voted to send the proposal to the planning committee.
Before the vote, Lisa Turansky, director of sustainable agriculture at the Coastal Conservation League, told council such districts have been “tremendously successful” in nearby states, including North Carolina, which has had a program since 1985, and Virginia, which has had one since 1979.
The program is completely voluntary, she said, and can work with zoning or in the absence of controls zoning. She suggested council appoint an advisory board of farmers and foresters.
In North Carolina, farms that participate in the program must conform to soil erosion practices, be the subject of a voluntary conservation easement for 10 years and comply with any other requirements set by individual counties.
In return, farmers get increased protection from nuisance suits, are eligible for farmland preservation funds, get public recognition for their farmland and get a role in local government by participating in an advisory board that makes recommendations to local government on projects, programs or issues that could affect the agricultural economy, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.
Turansky said the districts are a communication tool. Adjacent landowners that wanted to develop their land would be required to notify the farmers and hold a public hearing, she said.
The process gives visibility to land use, she said.
Along with the agricultural districts, council is taking up the planning commission’s recommendations for rural zoning.
Councilman George Bailey said he and Councilman Willie Davis wanted to be sure that any landowners whose property was placed in rural economic districts wouldn’t see their taxes escalate.
Council sent the issue to its planning committee.