Voluntary Ag Districts approved

Published 10:22 am Wednesday, December 19, 2018

GATESVILLE – Despite its small size in total land mass, Gates County bursts at its seams in the pride it takes in being an area famous for its long-standing tradition in agriculture.

So, it’s only natural for that way of life to be protected today and for future generations.

At their regularly scheduled meeting here Dec. 3, the Gates County Board of Commissioners placed the finishing touches on a 15-page document that establishes qualifying areas as Voluntary Agricultural Districts (VADs) and Enhanced Voluntary Agricultural Districts (EVADs).

The vote was unanimous among the five commissioners to approve the ordinance.

Authorized by the North Carolina General Assembly in the 1985 Farmland Preservation Enabling Act and implemented at the county level, VADs and EVADs help form partnerships between farmers, county commissioners and land use planners to pass ordinances that encourage the voluntary preservation of farmland, support the productive use of agricultural land, and protect land from non-farm development.

VADs and EVADs are part of the North Carolina Agricultural Districts program, which recognizes the importance of agriculture in North Carolina and fosters growth, development and sustainability of family farms.

The ordinance provides for the creation of an Agricultural Advisory Board to administer this program. The Board reviews and approves applications for qualifying farmland as well as establishing the agricultural district.

In Gates County, George Parker Kittrell serves as Chairman of the five-member Agricultural Advisory Board. He made comments during a required public hearing conducted at the Dec. 3 meeting at which time he encouraged the county commissioners to support the passage of the ordinance.

“This is an ordinance that perpetuates the rural lifestyle and farming in areas where it is desired,” Kittrell said. “It designates those areas for people who are interested in buying property or moving to the area so that they will know that the area is an agricultural area. It’s more an informational thing that anything else.”

According to the purpose of the new county ordinance, it “is to promote agricultural values and the general welfare of the county and more specifically, increase identity and pride in the agricultural community and its way of life; encourage the economic and financial health of agriculture, horticulture, and forestry; and increase protection from non-farm development and other negative impacts on properly managed farms.”

Commissioner Jack Owens said having an advisory board in place to oversee the VADs and EVADs is extremely helpful.

“The years of expertise that you guys have in farming and in all types of agriculture is a big advantage,” Owens remarked. “You guys can advise us on agricultural issues that may be coming down the pipe.”

Commission Chair Linda Holfer agreed with the “information” aspect of the ordinance that Kittrell referenced.

“When you have people moving in to our county, the need arises to make them aware that they may encounter slow moving (farm) equipment on our roads; or the smell when a chicken house is being cleaned out between flocks,” she noted.

In crafting the ordinance, Kittrell said the advisory board had similar documents from other counties to use for reference.

“They were quite varied,” Kittrell stated, referencing the ordinances from other jurisdictions. “I can assure that ours isn’t a copy of any one. We found some things from other counties that just didn’t fit Gates County.

“We have met with our tax office and register of deeds because these voluntary districts are designated under the register of deeds,” Kittrell added.

He said those VAD areas will be clearly marked by signage close to the road.

“There will be districts within the county; it can be the whole county, but it doesn’t have to be,” Kittrell observed.

The benefits to landowners within a VAD includes:

Recognition and public education about agriculture;

Increased protection from nuisance suits;

Notice on the property signaling Agricultural District membership and a notice in the computerized land record system making those within a ½ mile of an Agricultural District farm aware of the potential for noise, odor, dust, or slow moving farm vehicles associated with farming; Waiver of water and sewer assessments;

Public hearing held by the Agricultural Advisory Board if the land in an Agricultural District is considered for a public project that may condemn the land; and

District members may be eligible for farmland preservation funds as local, state, or federal funds.

Landowner benefits within an EVAD include all of the VAD offerings, plus they may receive up to 25% of its gross sales from the sale of nonfarm products and still qualify as a bona fide farm that is exempt from zoning

regulations under G.S. 153A-340(b); and eligible to receive a higher percentage of cost share funds under the Agriculture Cost Share Program pursuant to Part 9 of Article 21 of Chapter 143 of the General Statutes.

In addition to providing direct benefits to landowners, VADs and EVADs brings the general public benefits such as protecting a community’s rural heritage and economy, providing and maintaining local jobs and tax income; preserving scenic views and tourism-based economic activity; contributing to clean air and water; and minimizing the infrastructure burden on county and local governments.


About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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