An ordinance to free up land currently in agricultural or timber production for commercial use has narrowly passed a divided Hanover Board of Supervisors.
Proponents of the change say it will give the county a sharper competitive edge when it comes to attracting new businesses, while opponents claim it is tantamount to giving a certain sect of landowners their own competitive advantage.
“There is a chance that two properties could have the same zoning – the exact same zoning – and be paying different taxes…and I have an issue with that,” said Vice-chairman Sean Davis, Henry District supervisor.
Davis, Elton Wade, Cold Harbor District supervisor, and Aubrey “Bucky” Stanley, Beaverdam District supervisor, united in opposition to the ordinance change Nov. 26. They also supported a motion from Stanley to table the issue, which failed prior to its adoption.
The ordinance, enabled by action from the Virginia General Assembly, allows landowners enrolled in the county’s land use program to rezone their property to certain uses without being removed from the program, which taxes agricultural, forest and horticultural land at a reduced rate. Under the previous model, landowners would have to leave the program once their land was sold or changed uses, and would have to repay deferred tax value to the county.
Now, Hanover property owners in land use can change their property to accommodate manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, professional scientific and technical services, hotels, motels and professional offices without being penalized.
The ordinance is intended to apply only to undeveloped land. Once a building permit is pulled or the land is actually disturbed, the properties would graduate from the land use program.
While the county had targeted the 520 properties enrolled in land use that are also located in the county’s suburban service area, only 240 of those properties are also located in areas designated by the Comprehensive Plan for commercial use. Overall, there are approximately 3,600 parcels enrolled in the land use program countywide.
“We’ve had a great run with our land use program; it’s been very successful. For decades, it’s done a wonderful job at preserving the rural heritage of our beloved county and promoting rural conservation – that’s going to continue,” said Ed Gaskins, director of economic development.
While much of the land currently in land use will remain in tact, Gaskins said the ordinance change will help Hanover better meet demand for commercial property in the areas of the county has designated for that use.
“We talk often about increasing available commercial property in Hanover County and we don’t do that just because it sounds good, we do that because we’ve identified a competitive deficiency when we compete for property against other localities, both regionally and elsewhere,” he said.
The county currently has approximately 321 acres of development-ready property situated over 18 sites. The county’s goal in the current fiscal year is to increase that total – approximately 9 percent of the available product, regionally – by at least 100 acres.
“As we continue to grow and plan for our future, we need to have developable properties ready for possible development so that we don’t lose out on attractive, possible, positive growth for our county,” said Ed Via, Ashland District supervisor.
However, some supervisors still didn’t agree that altering the land use program was the way to entice industry.
Stanley said he is a proponent of land use, noting that it has met its intended goals of keeping rural Hanover in tact. However, he said an expedited route through the planning process would be a better way to achieve economic development goals.
“I’m not against economic development…and in my tenure here have not voted against a good economic development proposal, but I think this is going a little bit too far,” he said. “We’d probably be the first in the state to do this, and I know sometimes first is good if you’re in a race, but we’re really not in a race.”
Wayne Hazzard, South Anna supervisor, said the ordinance would help involve Hanover County in economic development in a greater degree than it had in the past. He pointed to the case of Amazon, which never looked at Hanover when it was searching for a metro-Richmond location because there wasn’t a site big enough to meet its needs. The online retail giant went on to construct a distribution center in Chesterfield County.
Hazzard also pointed out the opposite scenario. Vitamin Shoppe, which recently opened an Ashland-based distribution center, was up and running within a year because of the availability of a ready-to-build site.
“To me, it’s more of a sales tool to make Hanover County involved in economic development in the region and be more competitive,” Hazzard said.
Still, Stanley had a simple warning for owners of property in land use.
“I know this may be a carrot out there, but sometimes carrots are hard and sometimes they’re soft,” Stanley said. “I would think hard if I was a property owner.”