Sunday, October 1, 2023

Mainland Farm Protected from Non-Agricultural Development

jcc_new_logoThe longest continuously farmed piece of property in the U.S. is now protected from non-agricultural development.

The James City County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to put a conservation easement on Mainland Farm, a more than 200-acre piece of property located at 2881 Greensprings Road.

In 1997, the county’s Economic Development Authority entered into a contract to purchase the property, which closed in 1999. The county paid for the property through the EDA over 10 years; in May, the board asked staff to look into protecting the land from future development, which culminated Tuesday with the supervisors choosing Williamsburg Land Conservancy as the property’s easement holder.

The Mainland Farm easement  — approved on a 4-1 vote Tuesday — prevents certain types of development from occurring on the property. Currently there are no residences on the property; the easement allows for one residential structure to be built, and additional residences could be built for agricultural or forestal uses, such as a caretaker’s home.

Any nonresidential structure would be allowed if it were for agricultural or forestal use, or for a temporary event such as a festival, fair or sporting event. Any non-agricultural building constructed on the property is limited to a 4,500-square-foot area unless otherwise approved by the Williamsburg Land Conservancy.

Agricultural uses allowed on the property include business and tourism uses related to agriculture, wineries, botanical gardens, and the storage and processing of produce grown on the property, such as a cidery using apples grown on the land. Tree farms, wildlife management and corn mazes are also allowed on the property.

In advance of voting Tuesday, the board held a public hearing where five speakers approached the board: two for, two against and one with a question about how the easement would be handled if the  Williamsburg Land Conservancy ceased to exist.

County Attorney Leo Rogers said the easement would be transferred to another easement holder in that case.

Joseph Swanenburg and Chris Henderson were against the easement.

“Forever is a long time, and I don’t believe anyone in this room is wise enough to know what the future holds,” Henderson said.

On the flipside, Wayne Moyer and Caren Schumacher, executive director of the Williamsburg Land Conservancy, were in favor of the easement.

“We should preserve these kinds of agricultural enterprises throughout the county, but starting with Mainland Farm — let’s approve it,” Moyer said.

Schumacher said none of her past experiences addressing the board could compare to the reason she was addressing them Tuesday, and she thanked the members of the board in advance of its decision.

“Piece by piece, the county has strategically protected those parcels of land that make up the Governor’s Land Archaeological District and we commend you for these efforts,” Schumacher said.

In June, the board voted to conserve 324 acres through easements and purchasing future development rights. An 81-acre piece of property across the street from Mainland Farm was protected.

“Conservation of this land would link Mainland Farm, Jamestown Property, Jamestown Settlement and Jamestown Island into a cohesive protected landscape,” a June memo to the board regarding the 81-acre property read.

As the board discussed the proposed easement Tuesday, Supervisor Mary Jones (Berkeley) said she had some concerns with protecting the land, saying it wasn’t possible to predict the future to know what would be needed. She said Henderson expressed the same concerns she shared during the public hearing.

Supervisor Jim Kennedy (Stonehouse) initially spoke with Supervisor John McGlennon (Roberts) about putting an easement on the property; McGlennon then brought the discussion to light in May as he asked staff to explore possible easement holders. Kennedy’s thought was to have the EDA hold the title to the property — as it did until the end of last month — and the county to hold the easement.

Kennedy said it appeared the board was not interested in the same option, so he asked the property continue to be utilized. Kennedy has hopes local farms produce enough to provide supplies to local restaurants, which is something he has observed and appreciated about Charlottesville.

“It is not lying fallow, it is productive … What we have here the first farm that was farmed by English settlers on the mainland of America … it is today the most productive cropland of its type in the United States of America,” McGlennon said. “We will be finally living up to the public trust; the public wanted us to acquire that land for the protection of the land.”

The board voted 4-1 with Jones opposed to conserve the property through an easement.

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