Joint Subcommittee Studying Agricultural and Forestal Districts

September 10, 1997, Richmond

The joint subcommittee met for a second time to review the results of a survey that had been sent to localities that have districts and to receive suggestions from interested parties as to how the Agricultural and Forestal Districts Act might be improved.


Survey responses were received from 19 of the 25 localities that, according to Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services records, have districts. Those responding included Accomack, Albemarle, Clarke, Culpeper, Fairfax, Fauquier, Frederick, Greene, Hanover, Isle of Wight, James City, Loudoun, Louisa, Montgomery, New Kent, Prince William, Rappahannock, and Warren. Tazewell County's response indicated that it no longer has any districts.

The survey responses, all but three of which were prepared by members of the counties' planning staffs, yielded the following information. Ten respondents answered that the opportunity to create agricultural and forestal districts is adequately utilized by local land owners. Four counties have encountered difficulties in following the statutorily prescribed process for creating districts or for adding land to an existing district, while 13 have not. Difficulties listed related to the multi-step notification and advertising process required and the time frame in which each step in the process is to take place. Four counties have encountered difficulties in following the process prescribed for reviewing districts, while 13 have not. One respondent mentioned difficulty in obtaining a quorum on the advisory committee, and another mentioned difficulty in obtaining responses from some of the landowners. Two counties have encountered difficulties in following the process prescribed for withdrawing land from or terminating districts, while 15 have not. Both of those indicating difficulties said that the "good and reasonable cause" standard for withdrawal set forth in the statute is vague and difficult to apply. Two counties indicated that they had experienced difficulties regarding the procedure to be followed when a state agency, other political subdivision or public service corporation plans to acquire land within the district. Eight indicated that this situation had never been encountered.

Every county but one indicated that its agricultural and forestal district advisory committee does not have a set meeting schedule, but meets as needed. Five counties' advisory committees usually meet more than once a year. One county indicated that routine matters are often handled by mailed ballot. Ten counties indicated that their advisory committees are quite active, while five said that the role taken by the advisory committee varies or is minimal. Four counties' advisory committees engage in other activities in addition to reviewing proposals related to districts. Fourteen of the counties have a designated advisory committee chairman, while four do not. One county indicated that the Board of Supervisors' representative serves as the informal chairman.

Proposals for Changes

Some of the suggestions for changes were made as part of the survey responses, while others were made by persons who addressed the subcommittee at its meeting.

  • There should be an annual date set in the statute by which applications for creating a district must be submitted to the locality.
  • Localities should be notified at least 60 days before a state agency, other political subdivision or public service corporation plans to acquire land within the district.
  • A detailed evaluation of such proposals should be prepared by the local government and the entity proposing to acquire the land. In deciding whether to approve the proposal, the locality should consider whether alternatives exist that would minimize or avoid any adverse impact on agriculture and forestry.
  • Owners of district land should be required to meet annually.
  • The law could be strengthened if membership in an agricultural and forestal district were required for agriculturally related benefits, such as cost-share grants for the implementation of best management practices.
  • There are too many requirements that must be completed within 30-day increments. It would be easier for localities to complete the application review process within 180 days if the time devoted to each individual step in the process could be determined on a case-by-case basis.
  • Owners of district land should have an increased role in the process of reviewing state acquisitions of land in districts.
  • Localities should be able to enforce the conditions contained in the district ordinance, either by forcing compliance or terminating the district.
  • The law should allow the district renewal process to be handled by the board of supervisors' designated agent.
  • The procedure for adding land to an existing district should be simplified.
  • The planning commission and advisory committee should be involved in the locality's final review of proposals by state agencies to acquire land within districts.

The subcommittee members were requested by the chairman to submit to staff a list of proposals that they would like to see in bill draft form at the subcommittee's final meeting. These drafts will be made available to persons requesting them at least two weeks prior to the meeting, which will probably be held in November.

The Honorable John J. Davies III, Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Nicole R. Beyer