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Purchase of Development Rights


The County of Northampton enacted the Purchase of Development Rights Ordinance in late 2006 and the Ordinance has since been amended in 2007 and again in 2011. The PDR Program was designed and promoted by a coalition of farm, conservation, business, and civic interests. There was a common concern for resource and growth management, as well as preservation of agri-business and a balanced tax base. Although Northampton's program is new, it will undoubtedly be an important tool for conserving our natural resources, protecting the rural character and heritage of the Eastern Shore in Northampton County and will help preserve the agricultural land base of the County.

The goal of the program is to preserve and protect farm and forested lands through perpetual easements. The protected land base will help to ensure that farm and forested lands will be available for future generations to maintain a viable agricultural industry for the County. The estimated economic impact of agricultural products grown in Northampton County totaled over $90 million according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

By preventing development in the rural areas of the County, tremendous savings are realized by offsetting infrastructure costs. PDR prevents the need for new roads and improvements, public services such as police, fire and EMS, new schools, libraries, and trash collection. The American Farmland Trust Cost of Community Services studies conducted over the last 20 years show working lands generate more public revenues than they receive back in public services. Their impact on community coffers is similar to that of other commercial and industrial land uses. The median Cost of Community Services results show that for every $1.00 collected in real estate tax, $1.19 is spent for city services on residential land use but only $0.37 is spent on working and open lands. Agricultural lands require very few city services and generate positive tax revenue, thus they actually subsidize the residential development.

PDR is a voluntary program administered by the County's Board of Supervisors and the Purchase of Development Rights Committee. The latter is composed of farmers, conservationists, public servants, and the PDR Program Administrator who is a Northampton County Development Department Planner.

Northampton County owners of farm and forested lands which meet the following criteria are eligible to apply:

a) At least 50% of the tract's soils are prime agricultural soils (Bojac or Munden) based on the most recent soil maps used by the County's Development Department.

b) The tract is located in either Agriculture or Conservation zoning district and is in the Agricultural Forest Land Use Area as mapped on the Future Land Use and Development Map in the County's Comprehensive Plan.

c) There must be no existing violations on the easement parcel. Applicants found to have violations may reapply after these areas are satisfactorily resolved.

d) A permanent conservation easement will apply to the entire parcel of land on which development rights are being donated or sold.

A fair market appraisal of development rights must be completed on eligible property and a copy of submitted as directed during the process for Application for Sale of Development Rights submitted to the PDR Committee. Properties are competitively evaluated and ranked by the Committee and the final approval of a County offer to purchase the development rights is determined by the Board of Supervisors. The purchase price offer is based on the fair market value of the property, less the agricultural value of the land since the landowner retains ownership, keeping the property on the tax roll.

Once a tract is approved for acquisition of development rights, the PDR Committee will apply to the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) for Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) funding of 50% of the value of those development rights, which is the maximum that the FRPP can provide by law. NRCS requires their funding to be matched by an equal amount from nonfederal sources. This can be a combination of Commonwealth funds, County funds, and up to 25% of the total sales price can be donated by the property owner who would then receive significant tax benefits on that donation. At closing, the property owner will receive the full value of the development rights in cash less the value of that portion voluntarily donated, if any. The development rights in turn are conveyed to the County in the form of a conservation easement which is held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) in perpetuity. A monitoring visit to the property will be made each year by a representative of VOF to ensure the property remains in conformance with the terms of the conservation easement.

To date, the County has completed three PDRs. The first PDR was recorded in 2009, a seaside farm located near Capeville consisting of 268 acres owned by Nancy Richardson. The second PDR was recorded in 2011, a bayside farm located west of Nassawadox consisting of 172 acres owned by the Nottingham Brothers. The third PDR was recorded in July of 2014, a bayside farm located on Westerhouse Creek consisting of 197 acres owned by the HSO Shore Land Trust. The PDR Committee will begin working on grants and funding for the fourth PDR, a 304 acre farm on the seaside.

For more information please contact Peter Stith, PDR Program
Administrator at (757) 678-0443 ext 545 or email Peter Stith.

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