Confusion swirls over land use rules

Talk about Fluvanna’s land use program has reached a frenzied pitch in recent days after an argument at the Board of Supervisors meeting on July 6.

Land use, which offers significant tax breaks to landowners who dedicate their property to agriculture, forestry or open space, has recently become a hot topic in Fluvanna. Some support the program as a way to keep Fluvanna rural while others believe it subsidizes owners of large tracts of land at the cost of other residents.

But recently conversations around the community and on social media have called out brothers Mel Sheridan, commissioner of the revenue, and Mike Sheridan, chair of the Board of Supervisors, for having land in the program that doesn’t seem to meet a basic requirement. A closer look at the rules, however, shows this concern to be unfounded.

According to Fluvanna’s land use rules, a parcel in the forestal section of land use must be at least 20 acres. But Mel Sheridan has one 17.804-acre parcel of land that, after his two-acre home site, is devoted to agriculture for 10.204 acres and forestry for 5.6 acres – which seems to fall short of the 20-acre minimum. He owns other parcels that also don’t seem to fit into basic acreage requirements, such as a parcel with 3.646 acres in agriculture land use – less than agriculture’s five-acre minimum.

Mike Sheridan owns a 13.879-acre parcel of land, which after his two-acre home site is devoted to agriculture for five acres and forestry for 6.879 acres. This also seems to fall short of the 20-acre forestal requirement.

But land use is a complicated program with many rules. Basic acreage requirements can be misleading if taken out of context.

In general, “each parcel that’s subdivided has to stand on its own” in meeting acreage requirements, said Mel Sheridan, who as commissioner of the revenue is responsible for enforcing the program. But there are exceptions.

For example, residual acreage can qualify for land use, said Mel Sheridan. As long as a parcel meets minimum acreage requirements for one section of land use, the leftover acres can qualify for another section.

A hypothetical 25-acre parcel with 15 acres devoted to pasture and cows would qualify for agriculture land use, said Mel Sheridan. The leftover 10 acres, hypothetically covered in trees, would then be allowed into forestal use though they didn’t meet the 20-acre minimum.

So because Mel Sheridan’s 17.804-acre parcel of land exceeds the five-acre requirement of agriculture use, his 5.6 acres of forestal land are allowed to qualify for the program.

The same goes for Mike Sheridan’s property. Because his land devotes five acres to agriculture, his 6.879 acres of forestal use are permitted.

Though in general subdivided parcels have to stand on their own when meeting acreage requirements, a little-known rule makes an exception for parcels subdivided before July 1, 1983. So several parcels owned by Supervisor Trish Eager that don’t appear to meet minimum acreage requirements are legitimately in the program because they were subdivided before the deadline, said Mel Sheridan.

Another rule allows landowners with parcels that aren’t big enough to stand on their own to attach them to qualifying contiguous parcels. So someone with a 25-acre parcel in forestal use could add on a second parcel of five acres if the parcels are contiguous, or joined by a border, said Mel Sheridan.

“The reverse is not true,” said Mel Sheridan. “The door only swings one way.” Landowners may purchase and add on, but they cannot subdivide and remain in the program unless the subdivided parcels individually qualify.

“We will continue to enforce the land use policies and procedures put in place by the Board,” said Mel Sheridan.

He said that the recent scrutiny of land use has boosted the number of calls to his office from people trying to participate in the program.



Minimum Acreage Requirements

Program Minimum Acreage

Forestal Land Use 20

Open Space 10

Agriculture Land Use 5

Data provided by Fluvanna County