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Posted: February 1, 2011 9:09 p.m.

County to protect agricultural land

The Board of Commissioners received an update Tuesday on their participation in a state pilot program that gives Newton County residents and farmers ways to protect their agricultural land.

Nina Kelly, a planner for the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, presented the board with four options that would allow the county to permanently protect agricultural land, which is one of the county's goals.

Under current state land conservation laws, agricultural land can be protected for up to 10 years by valuing and taxing the land based on its current use, such as timber farming, instead of its fair market value. The taxes paid on the land if it was valued at its fair market price could result in significant costs to land owners, who might then be motivated to sell that land to developers.

One option is to limit where sewer and water infrastructure can be placed, a goals of the 2050 Plan, which seeks to direct growth in the county. Growth is predominantly driven by access to water and the location of schools.

Another option would be to simply disallow any residential subdivisions in agricultural areas or require very low densities.

A third option is transfer development rights, which allows owners of agricultural land or historic sites to sell the rights to develop their land to other land owners, who may then build more densely on their land than would otherwise be allowed under the law. In this way, rural land would stay rural and urban land would be even more densely developed.

The fourth option would be to require developers to set aside an acre of land for conservation every time they got an acre of land was rezoned away from agricultural - this is also known as land mitigation.

Kelly asked the board to provide her with feedback on the direction they'd like to take, so that she can continue to work on a plan for the county, which she would have finished by June. Morgan said the board would discuss the options during its retreat later in February.

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