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LAND CONSERVATION

State law

Land use taxation

In Virginia, localities can elect to reduce the real estate tax burden on unimproved land. The Commissioner of Revenue determines if the land is suitable for land use valuation. When the locality accepts the application for the land use valuation, the property tax is a reflection of productivity rather than on fair market value that results in a substantially lower real property taxes on the land. The Commissioner of Revenue uses the recommendations of the State Land Evaluation Advisory Council (SLEAC) for the productive value of the land when calculating the real property tax obligation of the landowner. Land use values are determined for agriculture, horticulture, forestry and open-space.

The locality may take an individual property out of land use when a landowner changes the use of the property (for instance, if the owner harvests timber with no provision to reforest, or if a landowner is causing pollution by not following accepted best management practices, or if the property is being developed). Likewise, landowners may elect at any time to remove the property from land use to take advantage of demand for development property. Although this taxation program does not offer long-term conservation, it removes some of the financial pressure for sale and development of land.

Contact your local government to find out if this program exists in your community.

Agricultural and forestal districts

Localities can create these special districts with voluntary landowner initiative to temporarily reserve farm and forestland. These special districts are Agricultural, Forestal, or Agricultural and Forestal Districts. The districts are a way for counties to encourage the use of land for agriculture and/or forestry activities. Only landowners who agree to limit development of the property during the number of years the district is in effect, which is from four to 10 years, can initiate the district. At least 200 acres are required to form a district. Landowners have the right to remove their land from the district with no penalty when the term expires. To create a district of local significance, a single landowner, a group of landowners or a community will decide together the most desirable way to use these lands for the community. This group then asks the locality to establish the district and the local governing body will then make a decision regarding the district. Lands in such districts have reduced taxes corresponding to land use rather than fair market value and are allowed exceptions to laws that would restrict farming or forestry in the district.