- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2008

RICHMOND | A 228-acre family farm in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains is the first property shielded from development under a Virginia program to stop the loss of farms and forests.

The Clayton farm, outside of Crozet, includes 128 prime agricultural acres and more than 6,700 feet of waterfront on the protected Beaver Creek Reservoir.

The 2007 General Assembly approved giving $4.2 million to 14 Virginia localities to preserve farmland. According to the program, the money must be matched with local funds and the landowner maintains ownership. However, the program purchases the property’s development rights and the landowner is compensated for preserving the land through the perpetual conservation easement.

Albemarle County, one of 14 Virginia localities to receive funding, was awarded a $403,220 grant to buy the development rights on the Clayton farm.

“Over the past decade, Virginia has lost over 60,000 acres of farm and forest per year to development,” Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, said Thursday.

Albemarle includes Jefferson’s Monticello and has been a leader in land preservation. The Crozet preservation marked the 20th working farm the county has shielded from development, pushing it over the 5,000-acre mark in terms of conservation easements. Included in the number is 74,000 acres of protected farm and forest.

Buying development rights can ease the pressure on growers who might be tempted by development dollars.

“We look particularly for properties that are protecting critical resources,” said Lee Catlin, Albemarle’s community relations director. She also said mountain ridges, drinking supplies and scenic highways “come to the top of the list.”

Today, roughly 8.5 million of Virginia’s 25 million acres is devoted to farmland, compared with 13.5 million in 1960, according to the Office of Farmland Preservation with the state Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services.

In 2003, Virginia had 15.8 million acres of forest, 180,600 acres less than in 1992.

Kevin Schmidt, coordinator of the state’s farmland preservation office, said any farm or forest within an hour of the District is threatened, as is open land in the crowded Hampton Roads region.

While farmers are feeling development pressures, some also view their property as a retirement nest egg, Mr. Schmidt said. Easements can keep the acres in agriculture while compensating a grower for money he could be offered from developers.

Mr. Kaine has set a goal of protecting 400,000 acres of open space during his term. More than 250,000 acres have been protected in the last two years, the governor’s office said.

In addition to the Albermarle deal, $403,200 in grants was divided among the counties of Clark, Fauquier, Goochland, Isle of Wight and James City and the cities of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.

Stafford County received $299,242; Frederick County $265,000; Rappahannock County $165,000; New Kent County $150,000; Cumberland County $100,000; and Northampton County $45,000.

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