A land use glossary

25-acre zoning: A defining feature of Rappahannock, this unusually restrictive zoning outside of the county’s villages has effectively blocked the development of suburban subdivisions spreading over farmland – although the land-use tax deferment has probably been more responsible for allowing farmers to hold on to their land. The ordinance, approved in 1986, doesn’t mean that only one home can be built on every 25 acres, but rather that a density of one house per 25 acres is required. In other words, on a 100-acre parcel, four houses can be built within an acre of each other.

Conservation easement: An agreement between a landowner and a governmental or nonprofit conservation organization, such as the Piedmont Environmental Council. It restricts any future development on the property to protect its natural, scenic or historic features. The land is assessed at a lower level than it would if it could be developed, and the property owner is eligible for federal, state and estate tax benefits. About 19 percent of the county’s acreage is in conservation easement.

Family subdivisions: This allows a landowner to create separate parcels of land for as many as five family members. To create a family subdivision, a person must own the land for at least five years. The parcels for each family member must be at least two acres.

Land-use tax deferment: A reduced property tax deduction available to landowners who meet specific conditions for how their land is used. It applies only to the value of the owner’s land and not their home. Rappahannock currently offers deferments for three types of uses – agricultural, horticultural and forestry. If the landowner fails to meet the conditions, they are subject to a roll-back tax equal to the sum of the deferred tax for each of the five most recent tax years. The land requirement is at least five acres for the agricultural and horticultural deferments and 20 acres for the forestry deduction. More than 60 percent of the taxable acreage in the county receives a land-use deferment. About half of the deductions in Rappahannock are for agricultural use.

Open space land-use deferment: A land-use tax deduction created by Virginia law, but currently not available in Rappahannock. This deduction has most often been used to reduce property taxes on land used for golf courses and swimming clubs, but could be applied for property protected for preservation. Unlike a conservation easement, it would not require that the land stay undeveloped forever.

Tourist home: Unlike a bed-and-breakfast, this is a building with sleeping accommodations for no more than 12 people and generally rented for more than a weekend. Airbnb rentals are an example. Legislation recently approved by the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates would allow local municipalities to regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb and collect taxes from the property owners.

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