As farming phases out, family seeks possibilities for property

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A house on the Taylor family's property sits in a large farm field on Richmond Road in Toano. (Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)
A house on the Taylor family’s property sits in a large farm field on Richmond Road in Toano. (Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)

For nearly eight decades, the Taylor family has owned a rolling 217-acre piece of farmland in Toano.

Now, the Taylor family is looking for backup options for their property. Farmers who previously worked the fields are either aging or have passed away. And operating a mid-size farm, such as the Taylor’s, is no longer financially sustainable, according to family letters to James City County.

The family is asking the county to change the land use designation of the property, which lies at 8491 Richmond Road near Anderson’s Corner, to allow certain types of development on the parcel, according to a March 14 memorandum to the Board of Supervisors from the Planning Department.

As the James City County Board of Supervisors are set to vote on the family’s land use application at their 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday night,  county planning staff are odds with the family’s request.

According to the memorandum, county staff recommended to deny the application because of the potential loss of “prime agricultural land,” and the “significant uncertainty with which an adequate source of water would be available to James City County to serve this property considering the amount of developable land already inside the [Public Service area] as it exists today.”

The family is also asking for the entire property to be placed within the bordering Public Service Area (PSA), which cuts through the front fifth of the property. The PSA is designated for residential, commercial and industrial development that has access to public utilities and other public service.

Taylor family members did not return phone calls seeking comment, but in a letter written by a family member included in the Board of Supervisors agenda packet, the family said they have no immediate plans to develop the land, but keeping the property as farmland forever will not be sustainable.

“I have asked this many times, but who is going to farm this property in the next ten years?” family member Beverly Taylor Hall wrote in a letter.

Land use request

The family’s land use application dates back to 2014, as part of the county’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan update.

County planners are concerned that changing the land use would be a potential loss of “prime” agricultural land if the Taylor property were to be developed.  The Taylor family disagrees.

“The word PERMANENTLY means forever, to remain the same, without change, always, endures throughout so that means all my family can do is pay taxes,” Hall wrote, referencing the Planning Department’s desire to maintain prime agricultural land in James City County.

The current zoning of the area around the Taylor family property is shown in a Board of Supervisors agenda document. (Courtesy James City County Planning Department)
The current zoning of the area around the Taylor family property is shown in a Board of Supervisors agenda document. The Taylor property is the central parcel that borders the CSX Railroad tracks and has a long pond. (Courtesy James City County Planning Department)

There are about 30 parcels in James City County still viable for large-scale farming, according to agenda documents, but in Hall’s letter, she states there are “no large farms” in James City County.

The last Taylor family member to farm the property was Cliff Taylor, who passed away in 2007, according to a letter to county staff written by family member Randy Taylor.

The letter also states the property is not “large enough to sustain a farmer on its own.”

Now, the family leases most of the 130 acres of farmland to a farmer from New Kent, Taylor’s letter states.

Hall’s letter also says the New Kent farmer is in his sixties.

Staff also expressed a second concern about increased groundwater withdrawal as James City County develops, citing “stressed” water aquifers.

A recently-issued permit by the Department of Environmental Quality allows the county to continue drawing water from an underground aquifer at a rate of six million gallons per day, according to Hill.  The county’s previous permit allowed drawing up to 8.8 million gallons per day, while the county averaged well under that limit at 5.4 million gallons per day drawn from the aquifer.

“Inherent to the DEQ’s decision to limit withdrawal of groundwater is a recognition of the fact that the aquifers which provide water to James City County are still stressed,” the memorandum states.

County Administrator Bryan Hill said the current water withdrawal permit can “absolutely” cover development of the vacant spaces in the PSA as it is currently, although the county does not yet have an “ironclad alternative” for a water source.

Staff included the water permit and groundwater topic in the memorandum to ensure supervisors are “keenly aware of all the factors” surrounding the Taylor property application, Hill said.

“We want the Board to have the options on the table,” Hill said. “They need to know everything – that there’s nothing left they need to know before making a decision.”

The Taylor family says they have no immediate plans to develop the land, but family members have written letters stating keeping the property as farmland forever will not be sustainable. (Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)
The Taylor family says they have no immediate plans to develop the land, but family members have written letters stating keeping the property as farmland forever will not be sustainable. (Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)

A third concern of the planning department staff is the abundance of developable land nearby that is still vacant, documents state. If the application is granted, the amount of vacant developable land would only increase.

The letter from Hall stated the property’s zoning is inconsistent with the properties around it.

There are 15,000 open buildable spaces in the current PSA, Hill said.

“Staff also recommends that the Board carefully consider the implications more generally of PSA expansion and/or adding additional growth potential within the PSA, such as greater needs for other County services and facilities,” the memorandum states.

The county’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan – essentially a road map for the county’s future and development until 2035 – states there is enough room in the existing PSA to accommodate residential growth until at least 2033, according to city documents.

“That’s what they should be predicating their decision for the Taylor farm on tonight, is how possibly changing the land use relates to the county’s comprehensive plan,” Hill said.

“Please let it be known that we do not have any plans for development of this property at this time. However, we would like to have a land use designation in place that would best serve our family and James City County in the years to come,” Taylor’s letter said.

Update 8 p.m. Tuesday: The James City County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday night to send the application back to the Planning Commission for more review and a recommendation for action.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated the family was asking the property to be rezoned. The family is actually asking the property’s Land Use Designation to be changed.

WYDaily archives were used in this story.

Fearing can be reached at sarah.f@localvoicemedia.com.