Voluntary Agricultural Districts Growing Strong
Voluntary Agricultural Districts demonstrate pride and commitment to agriculture, and celebrate the contribution of agriculture to the exceptional quality of life in Orange County. This commitment dates back to 1992, when Orange County adopted a Voluntary Farmland Preservation Program Ordinance, creating the Agricultural Preservation Board (APB) and procedures for establishing Voluntary Agricultural Districts.
There are a host of benefits to having a farm categorized as a Voluntary Agricultural District. Signage will be placed along public roads at the property line of participating farms that identify the farm as an Orange County Voluntary Agricultural District. These signs will tell passersby the farm owner is committed to the preservation of the agricultural way of life in Orange County.
To date, a total of 10,395 acres have enrolled in the Voluntary Agriculture District (8,536) and the Enhanced Voluntary Agriculture District (1,859).
Farmers receive increased protection from nuisance suits. Land purchases made within one-half mile of the District will be done with the knowledge that a bona fide agricultural operation exists. Agricultural Districts will be identified in the County Land Records System and on County Tax Maps. Applicants for new developments will also be alerted to the presence of an agricultural district within one-half mile.
Landowners within Agricultural Districts will not be required to connect to water or sewer systems owned and/or operated by Orange County, nor will they be assessed water and sewer charges until their property is connected to such service.
Another benefit is no State or County agency may initiate condemnation proceedings against any lands within an Agricultural District, until a formal public hearing is conducted.
“Farmers in Orange County are interested in the voluntary agricultural district program because of their commitment to agriculture and protecting the natural resources on their farms,” said Gail Hughes, resource conservation coordinator with Orange County’s Soil and Water Conservation division.
Agricultural Districts receive priority consideration during development review. These lands are considered 'Primary Conservation Areas' when reviewing new development proposals adjacent to the District. Last, but not least Agricultural Districts may be eligible for farmland preservation grants, should local, state or federal funding become available.
A farm must first be certified as Qualifying Farmland in order to become an Agricultural District, and be managed, in accordance with NRCS and Soil and Water Conservation District management plans to protect natural resources.
Once an application is approved by the Orange County Agricultural Preservation Board and the Board of County Commissioners, a Voluntary Agricultural District member will be subject to a non-binding conservation agreement between the County and the landowner that prohibits non-farm use of development of that land for a period of at least 10 years. However, up to three lots may be developed on a parcel of land within a district.
Should a participating farmer decide to sell their land...a Voluntary Agricultural District member may revoke the conservation agreement through a written notice to the Agricultural Preservation Board.
For more information or to apply for enrollment in one of these districts, please contact Gail Hughes, resource conservation coordinator with Orange County’s DEAPR/Soil and Water Conservation at 919.245.2753.