Make land-use designations benefit all

Special to the Gazette

For several years, I have closely followed the situation with James City County's Economic Opportunity zones. The first such zone was proposed by myself and other members of the Board of Supervisors for the Hill Pleasant Farm property in 2007-08. The proposal was incorporated shortly thereafter into the county's Comprehensive Plan.

Since that time two additional land owners have either requested or been accepted into the EO zoning category. The acreage designated for Economic Opportunity has tripled over the last decade, and is in varying locations along Route 60. That's a logical choice for a few parcels, but expanding to additional sites poses substantial risk for unbridled development.

We have all seen boards with good intentions make what they consider to be good decisions. Everyone is momentarily satisfied until the product doesn't sell. The rationale is that the proverbial camel's nose is now under the tent, so why not permit additional uses such as housing or non-revenue producing ventures?

I caution you to take heed and to consider other options beneficial to the entire community.

The issue this essay targets is AFD, the Agricultural/Forestal District that provides tax relief for land owners. I know several current supervisors resisted and opposed the Purchase of Development Rights adopted in 2000-01 by a Republican majority board. The citizens voted via referendum to spend up to $20 million on the PDR and greenspace programs, although most of the funds were never used because of the recession.

The PDR program offered something tangible to the county and its citizens, namely security in knowing no future growth would take place on property accepted into the program. It would also generate revenue in the form of property taxes, albeit at a discounted rate. It was a very good deal for the county, our citizens and the landowner.

When parcels not enrolled in the PDR program are given tax breaks with an AFD designation, the county and its citizens get nothing of value from the land owner, who at any time may petition for removal to allow development. That's not advantageous for the majority, and only helps the land owner.

I propose county supervisors do the following:

•If the Taylor farm property on Richmond Road is to be designated Economic Opportunity and is included in the Primary Service Area of public water and sewer access — as the property owners requested and the Planning Commission approved earlier this month — it should be immediately removed from the AFD program and taxed accordingly based on the property's development potential. The Taylor family has been quite adamant in its opposition to the PDR program, so why should it receive the full benefits of it with no commitment? Should the Taylor land receive the EO designation and inclusion in the Primary Service Area, the value of the land will likely double, maybe even triple. As development occurs it will lead to revenue shortfalls for our schools, emergency services and other needs.

•Put any other property currently designated EO on the same tax program when the owner's current AFD tax credit ends. This is more than fair.

•Put the onus on all property in the AFD program to commit for 20 years, with no escape clause. This commitment allows for future growth planning and provides security to the landowner and citizens of James City County. At the end of the 20-year commitment there would be no tax penalty to withdraw from the program.

•Extend the offer of the 20-year AFD commitment to all property owners currently in the AFD inclusive of property designated for economic opportunity. If they decline, tax the property at the rate set by proper protocols. This allows for the speculation of development of the land owner and potential developers. I do not consider this to be a punitive program, but one that benefits the masses, not just those looking for tax breaks and hoping for future development. The planning process would be much simpler, and forecasting needs for water, infrastructure, and public services would be far more reliable.

Supervisors, I would be happy to discuss this with any of you. I also hope you seriously consider this before voting on the EO proposal before you. It is time to think about the spending so many of you spoke of in your campaigns. This is a way to address future expense with reasonable and fair methods for everyone.

Kennedy, a businessman and former James City County supervisor, lives in Toano.

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