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Beware Richmond’s Bearing Conservation Easements for Farmers

Virginia State House, Richmond

Virginia State House, Richmond

By Donna Holt, Virginia Campaign for Liberty

Matt Lohr, Commissioner, Virginia Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services, touts conservation easements as a means of “protecting the family farm” in his recent Cooperative Living editorial.

The original intent of conservation easement was to provide the means for the struggling farmer to save the family farm and preserve agricultural and forestry industries.
It wasn’t long before wealthy estate owners took advantage of the generous conservation program with a state giveaway of vast sums – some measuring into millions of dollars – to induce millionaires to “conserve” luxurious estates that they had no intention of developing anyway?

Virginia, which forces the humblest homeowners to place their real estate transactions in public view, created a special law allowing the millionaires to shroud such deals currently measured at $106.8 million a year in taxpayer money. Conservation in Virginia makes that possible.

Virginia boasts that its land preservation incentives are the “most generous” in the country. Indeed, the state budgets over $100 million a year to pay people not to develop their land.

While the amount that any individual landowner receives is kept secret from the public, a 2010 investigation by Hook, a Charlottesville weekly newspaper, revealed a veritable who’s who from the Charlottesville business, entertainment, government, and environmental worlds taking advantage.

Such entertainment magnates as Dave Matthews, John Grisham, and Coran Capshaw join business titans Hunter Craig, Wick McNeely, and Jim Murray. Local leaders Ann Mallek from the Albemarle Supervisors and waterworks chair Michael Gaffney use the program. So do big names from the environmental world such as Nature Conservancy board member Michael Bills, Southern Environmental Law Center director Rick Middleton, and avid eco-donor Tony Vanderwarker.

All these people have partnered with green groups to receive compensation for keeping some land unspoiled. What could possibly be wrong about that?

“It’s socialized capitalism for the rich,” says former Albemarle teacher Mark Crockett. “People who buy big estates don’t plan to develop them. Why turn and give them a tax credit?”

It’s also an appraisal racket. Biscuit Run serves as a prime example of the corrupt use of the conservation easement program.

The value of land is in its use. When the ability to engage in commerce and profit from the use of land is restricted and often denied, the value of the land is reduced. In contrast, an estate owned by wealthy elites maintains a much higher value per acre. The appraised value of the land determines the initial payout and tax benefits of the easement. The result is the benefit to the wealthy estate owner far outweighs the benefit to the struggling farmer.

The farmer is most often forced to place his land into a conservation easement to save it in response to the very strict land use regulations and expensive permits for every conceivable use of land. The noose is further tightened by limiting commerce, by permit only, to only raw produce. Permits aren’t granted for the sale of byproducts produced from the things farmers grow. Unless, of course, you happen to be the wife of a member of the Board of Supervisors in your locality as is the case in Fauquier County.

Fauquier County has some of the strictest land use restrictions of any locality in Virginia. Consequently, they boast a total of approximately 96,600 acres are in conservation easements, or 23 percent of the total land in the county, according to The Piedmont Environmental Council.

As numerous land trusts, set up by non-profits, have grown in size and number, so have their association and influence with government. This is particularly the case with large, national organizations like Piedmont Environmental Council and The Nature Conservancy that obtain enormous sums from federal funding.

Many land trusts have operated more like government agents. They often help to write the strict land use regulations adopted by local governments. They stand in waiting to acquire easements from struggling farmers, only to turn around and quietly sell them – sometimes for a profit – to state or federal governments.

It’s not surprising that Matt Lohr, the Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture, would consider joining the ranks of the rich to fleece the taxpayer while he supports restricting the sale of agricultural products by a struggling farmer.

 

Comments

comments

12 Responses to Beware Richmond’s Bearing Conservation Easements for Farmers

  1. v Reply

    June 6, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    ONE POINT OVERLOOKED. CONSERVATION EASEMENTS EXCLUDE REAL ESTATE TAXES ON LANDOWNERS WHO ARE PAID MONEY BY THE GOVERNMENT TO TAKE THEIR LAND DEVLOPMENT RIGHTS. THEY STILL OWN THE LAND – YET THEY ARE TAXED AT A PALTRY 1% COMPARED TO ADJACENT LANDOWNERS NOT IN CONSERVATION.

    DID FAUQUIER NOT HAVE TO INCREASE PROPERTY TAXES RECENTLY? IF 25% OF THE LAND IS BEING TAKEN FROM THE TAX BASE – WATCH TO SEE HOW MUCH HIGHER PROPERTY TAXES ARE AS A RESULT.

  2. Pingback: PEC holds strong sway in Fauquier County, or not - Fauquier Free Citizen | Fauquier Free Citizen

  3. Pingback: Conservation Easements, Government Land Grabs and IRS Audits « Watchdog.org

  4. Eddie from York Reply

    February 11, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    @ Bosun.. you say “Matt Lohr is a true farmer who actually lives on his family farm unlike Ms. Boneta”….

    Commissioner Matt Lohr does not live on his farm! So, does that mean he is not a farmer now according to your idiot logic?

    Commissioner Lohr has not lived on his farm for a long time. The farm is actually worked and run by a Lohr relative. Matt Lohr himself does not “farm” the land nor does he live on the farm. In fact, many farmers all over Virginia farm thousands of acres of farmland that they do not live on nor do any humans, yet they are all farmers.

    You know what is really sad? That people like Bosun come out like cockroaches and attack this poor farmer in Paris instead of focusing on the issues. This type of bullying has to stop in Fauquier County.

  5. Cap'n Reply

    February 8, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Bosun,

    As promoted by the Visit Shenandoah website, the Matt Lohr farm supplies snacks for family gatherings, has a Pedal Car Racing Track, a six-acre play land, and a petting zoo. I agree that he is a true farmer, and all farmers should have the same rights.

    You sound like a tool for Fauquier County.

    http://visitshenandoah.poweredbyindigo.com/v.php?pg=1135

    Lohr’s U-Pick Pumpkins & Playland

    I-81, Exit 257, Broadway, VA.

    What began as a one-acre patch of pumpkins in 2003 has blossomed into over 10 acres for 2009. Each year we search for the most unique and unusual varieties to plant. This year promises to be our best ever as we have selected over 50 different varieties. They range in color from orange, red, white, brown, green, black, purple, blue, yellow, and every possible shape and texture. Come join the fun of searching for the perfect one!

    In addition to pumpkins, we also have all of your fall decorating needs. Come pick from an assortment of fall mums, corn stalks, straw bales, gourds, large and small Indian corn, crafts and candy.

    We supply snacks and a picnic area, so you and your family can come spend the day sharing in the fun!
    In addition, our playland area is the perfect opportunity to come laugh, explore, learn, and just have a great day of FUN. Last year over 15,000 visitors made their way to our farm and it was a pleasure seeing them have a great time.

    We offer numerous attractions with a paid admission into the 6-acre playland area. There is a beautifully designed and painted castle which includes a game room and picture area. This castle serves as the entrance into the area.

    Be sure to check out our Pedal Car Racing Track! The pedal racing cars were a huge hit in 2008 with all ages looking for adventure. With sliding seats, they are ideal for anyone ranging in age from 6 to 66. The one-acre race track is located in the middle of a corn field! It is included with your Playland Admission.

    Our most popular attractions at our farm are the challenging corn mazes. The large maze is over 3 acres and offers clues and fact cards throughout the adventure. Our second maze is only 1 acre in size and is perfect for those little explorers.

    If you love animals, then you are in luck. Come check out our petting zoo full of lovable animals including miniature horses, pigs, goats, calves, lambs, and rabbits. Fun for all ages, come explore and share in the fun!
    10311 N Valley Pike, Broadway, VA 22815

    (540) 896-8796
    (540) 896-7873
    Visit us at http://www.lohrsfarm.com

  6. Larry in Lancaster Reply

    February 8, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Lohr alleges he earns over $200,000 per year at his “farm”/amusement park/circus/pick your own pumpkin disney land – more like $600,000 per year. It is so hypocritical that this man is in his position and wants to hyper regulate the small family farmer that is starving to death by over regulation earning under $25,000 per year to support a family of four.

    How is this not a conflict of interest? What a joke. Dirty politics. Lohr is all about himself and making money off of his land and could care less about the small family farm being starved off the farm.

    Go see for yourself: Lohr’s Pick U Own, Lohr’s U-Pick Pumpkins & PLAYLAND – sounds an awful like AGRITOURISM DISNEY to us! He dosn’t produce everything he sells.

    Go see for yourself his disney “farm” and take lots of pictures (they are all over the internet) and when you see him say “WHY IS IT OKAY FOR YOU to have a disneyland farm, but yet at the same time you want to over-regulate and strangle the small family farmer to death in Virginia?”

    Must be nice Lohr! You get to do whatever you want on your farm (sell things YOU DO NOT PRODUCE), make all the rules and screw the rest of the small family farmers at the same time! You shouldn’t be in office!

  7. "True Farmer" Virginian Reply

    February 8, 2013 at 10:56 am

    I am a “real farmer” as well from Fauquier. Statements made by “Bosum” are riddled with lies and deception.

    Boneta in fact did more than any other farmer in Virginia does (We do everything Boneta does and have never obtained a permit and never will):

    1) She registered her farm with the county
    2) Obtained a “RETAIL FARM STORE” business license that required zoning to even have it issued.
    3) Has an email trail a mile long specifically listing everything she was doing on the property that was approved by a Fauquier County official.
    4) Was open ONLY 7 hours a week and only during season.
    5) Engaged in farming practices done across the state.

    Boneta’s farm is 70 acres, zoned RA and sits at the corner of a major intersection Rt50 and Rt70, surrounded by farmland and has no neighbors. Boneta installed 24/7 video and audio surveillance that verifies the allegations were completely fabricated. Phil & Patty Thomas do not have an occupancy permit for their property, do not live in Fauquier and the abandoned parcel has not been lived in over 25 years. These neighbors have been tryin to acquire Boneta’s farm for years and in fact even had their personal secretary falsify a statement about the farm.

    This is what Fauquier County did to this poor woman:

    1) Sent armed sherriffs to her farm because the same neighbor complained that students were volunteering to work in the crops.
    2) County conspired to purchase her mortgage (all documented).
    3) County conspired to get this farmer an IRS AUDIT (all verified and documented).
    4) County went on her personal Facebook page and printed off pictures of her family and friends.
    5) County engaged in a calculated attempt to force this farmer off of her land – all documented.
    6) County never stepped foot on the property to determine if the neighbor’s allegations were accurate.
    7) County officials spread vicious rumors about the farmer to discredit her and invade her Constitutional rights. – all documented.
    8) County Harrassed and humiliated the farmer and maliciously target Boneta – all documented.
    9) There are numerous other actions of this county that I will not post online as they are not yet public that demonstrate severe government abuse.

    @ Bosum – last time I checked we do not live in the USSR:

    1) Americans have the God given right to have Birthday parties and peaceable assembly without government interference.
    2) BY LAW farmers are permitted to sell on their farmland.
    3) Pumpkin patches, corn mazes are also BY RIGHT

    It sounds to me like Bosum is a bully control freak Fauquier County Government employee. Many of us are not only “true farmers” but Americans and will give our life and our treasure to fight for the freedom of our neighbors and especially a farmer.

    Hear the battle cry- LEAVE THIS FARMER ALONE!

  8. Real Virginia Farmer Reply

    February 8, 2013 at 10:12 am

    @ Bosum! What is wrong with you? You have no idea what you are talking about….Who are you to say who is a “True Farmer”? One does not have to “live on a farm” to be a true farmer. Many Virginia farmers rent farm land all over the state and farm it. I am one of those farmers. We rent over 300 acres that I FARM and I do not live on any of that farmland and in fact only the cows live on those farms. Do you realize how absolutely idiotic your hateful statements are Bosum? The problem you people keep making is trying to destroy this woman’s life and credibility and every time you throw this trash around, the only thing you accomplish is showing the world that you are vindictive and manipulative.

    Unlike your dirty tricks smear campaign, I am a real Virginia Farmer and I support HB1430. It is good for all small family farmers and ABSOLUTELY MANDATORY in Virginia.

  9. Bosun Reply

    February 8, 2013 at 7:17 am

    This would be so funny if it wasn’t sad. Matt Lohr is a true farmer who actually lives on his family farm unlike Ms. Boneta. Matt Lohr can host birthday parties, have a corn maze, pumpkin patch and sell things because he played by the rules; he knows that he needs to be a good neighbor. Ms. Boneta decided instead to become the tool of a candidate for statewide office who is trying to use her issue to win the nomination at the convention. When Matt Lohr was a delegate he sponsored successful legislation to expand the Right to Farm Act to allow the small scale production of biomass into energy. So, I guess all you want to accomplish is to make a point and not enact real legislation.

  10. Lee Smith Reply

    February 8, 2013 at 6:24 am

    This was a very well written and researched article. Fauquier County losses way too much revenue to conservation easements. They only benefit a minority of landowners and cause taxes to go up for all others.
    Lee Smith
    Midland, Virginia

  11. Find a New Job Reply

    February 7, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    http://www.readthehook.com/88910/scenic-treasure-how-conservation-lines-pockets-rich

    It is about time these folks are outed in the press. Senator Jill Vogel sat on the VOF board and now Del. Joe May has a PEC lobbyist working as his legislative aide. The names need to appear in writing so we can start to understand the money flow and the reality of the sham. Thanks for the article.

  12. ConservationEasements= Communism Reply

    February 7, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    Conservation Land Trusts like the Soviet Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) are destroying America. Lohr should be conflicted out of his position. Disgusting.

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