Fox Pen discussion resurfaces
GATES – Timothy Williams remains steadfast in his opposition to plans to open a fox pen (hunting area/preserve) near his home and he claims that his interpretation of a state law regarding such facilities will prove in his favor.
However, on the other hand, Gates County Manager Natalie Rountree said the state statues are being followed to the letter in this case and that plans for the fox pen can move forward.
“I’m challenging this,” Williams told this newspaper recently. “What the [Gates County] Commissioners heard at their Aug. 19 meeting didn’t tell the whole story. For this property to qualify under the agritourism statue, the property owner must be a bona fide farmer and that’s not the case here.”
Williams was referencing information provided to the county commissioners from the UNC School of Government.
In answering an email from Lisa Cherry, Gates County’s Planning Director, Adam Lovelady, Associate Professor of Public Law and Government at UNC-Chapel Hill wrote that the land use issue for fox hunting preserves falls under the bona fide farm exemption. A fox pen is a large plot of fenced-in land that hunters use to train their dogs, typically using foxes or coyotes as the quarry.
“As you know, bona fide farm activities are exempt from county land use regulations,” Lovelady wrote in his email to Cherry, which was read aloud by Rountree at the Aug. 19 meeting. “Agritourism and agritourism buildings are included under the broad umbrella of bona fide farm activities. And, this year, the General Assembly amended the definition of agritourism to include hunting. With that, it seems likely that operating a licensed fox hunting preserve will qualify under the bona fide farm exemption and county land use regulations will not apply.”
Lovelady added that licensing for fox hunting preserves is handled by the state, specifically the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission that enforces regulations on those types of areas. Thusly, the county commissioners said they have no input into allowing (or not) such a facility to operate.
Williams is among many individuals who have voiced their opposition to plans to operate a fox pen on 244 acres of land near Tyler Road north of Gates between NC 37 and US 13.
“I appeared before Gates County Commissioners on July 15 and the Gates County Planning Board on August 19 seeking a moratorium and/or local regulations such as increased set back lines, natural buffers, etc., when preserves [fox pens] are located in close proximity to a residential neighborhood,” Williams said. “A petition signed by citizens in support of same has been presented as well. It is also my intention to petition the NC Wildlife Resource Commission for more stringent requirements relating to fencing, number of foxes per acre and increased oversight annually.”
After performing research on what Lovelady said in his email, as presented at the Aug. 19 commissioners meeting, Williams said he was of the opinion that the fox pen property owner failed to meet certain criteria as spelled out in the state statute.
“Upon my review of this statute, certain criterion need be met, first and foremost qualifying as a farmer in accordance with G.S. 105-164 among other things. I spoke with County Manager and advised that my interpretation of this statute does not constitute their inability to regulate, and more importantly that the current landowner in question doesn’t meet the criteria; therefore the bona fide farm statute does not apply,” Williams stressed.
When asked about the concerns shared by Williams, Rountree said that the property owner has filed the appropriate paperwork with the Gates County Tax Office.
Rountree referenced North Carolina General Statute 153A-340, which states that for the purposes of determining whether a property is being used for bona fide farm purposes, any of the following shall constitute sufficient evidence that the property is being used for that means:
A farm sales tax exemption certificate issued by the Department of Revenue;
A copy of the property tax listing showing that the property is eligible for participation in the present use value program pursuant to G.S. 105-277.3;
A copy of the farm owner’s or operator’s Schedule F from the owner’s or operator’s most recent federal income tax return; or
A forest management plan.
She added that the property owner is seeking to reforest the land, which qualifies him to obtain present use value for the property. That, in turn, would meet the criteria of being a bona fide farmer.
Williams said he plans to once again address the county board of commissioners about the issue at their next scheduled meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 16.