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Fox pen opposition continues

GATESVILLE – Timothy Williams continues in his effort to derail an effort to build a fox pen near his Gates home.

At last week’s scheduled meeting of the Gates County Board of Commissioners, Williams spoke during public comments, again citing his displeasure that the commissioners opted not to take the matter in their hands, rather saying that such facilities are controlled under state statute.

“The question [for Gates County officials] is should we regulate these facilities,” Williams posed to the commissioners.

Williams told the commissioners that he had made an application to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to review and amend state statutes dealing with fox pens/hunting preserves. 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.

“On Aug. 19, this body [board of commissioners] presented me with a bona fide farm exemption statute, stating this [statute] tied your hands in regulating fox pens at the local level,” Williams recalled. “It was said that bona fide farm activities are exempt from county land use regulations. Then, this year, the North Carolina General Assembly amended that regulation to include hunting.”

Williams continue to argue that he interprets the wording of the statute to say that the exemption applies to the landowner, and that person needs to be a “qualified farmer with farming production.”

Williams stressed if those qualifications are not met, it leaves him with one opinion.

“That the board was looking for a way around the duties of which you are in charge of,” he said. “It has the appearance that this body created a loophole and then ushered an individual through the loophole.”

Williams has consulted an attorney.

“I gave him a copy of the statute and he said it looked like it favored a farmer who wanted to add agritourism to their activities,” he shared. “But the amendment to this statute is clearly aimed at giving bona fide farmers a tax break if they are real farmers or have land in a land use or deferred tax basis. It doesn’t say farmers are exempt from local land use regulations.”

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.

As previously discussed, Gates County has more fox pens located within their borders than any other county in the region. Information sent to this newspaper by Williams showed licenses have been previously granted for the operation of seven “Controlled Fox Hunting Preserves” in the county. There are three each in the Corapeake and Gates areas of the county. The seventh lists a Belvidere address, but allegedly is in Gates County.

From a regional standpoint, Williams said there are three licensed fox pens each in Hertford and Perquimans counties and two in Pasquotank. Bertie and Northampton currently lists no such facility. The source of that information, sent to this newspaper, was from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, the agency responsible for licensing and setting the rules of operation for hunting preserves.

Gates County Manager Natalie Rountree said the state statues are being followed to the letter in this case and that plans for the newest fox pen in the county can move forward.

At their Aug. 19 meeting, Rountree read an email from Adam Lovelady, Associate Professor of Public Law and Government at UNC-Chapel Hill. He said that the land use issue for fox hunting preserves falls under the bona fide farm exemption.

“As you know, bona fide farm activities are exempt from county land use regulations,” Lovelady wrote in his email. “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 NC Wildlife Resources Commission that enforces regulations on those types of areas.

Thusly, the county commissioners said at their Aug. 19 meeting they have no input into allowing (or not) such a facility to operate.

Rountree said that the property owner of the fox pen near Tyler Road has filed the appropriate paperwork with the Gates County Tax Office. She 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, she said meets the criteria of being a bona fide farmer.

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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