Open Space & Agricultural Preservation Program (OSAP)
In February 2003, City Council created the Open Space and Agriculture Preservation (OSAP) Program in response to the community's concern for the preservation of the City's natural open spaces, rural character, and agricultural resources as an element of the City's overall growth management strategy.
The program is a strictly voluntary, city-wide competitive program in which the City purchases development rights from willing landowners in exchange for a preservation easement on their property. The landowner receives fair market value for the development rights of the land, but still retains ownership as well as the ability to have a home on the land and to use the land for agricultural or open space purposes.
In January 2007, the first easement was purchased under this program resulting in the permanent protection of 108 acres of prime agricultural land. A second easement was purchased in 2014, protecting an additional 64 acres of prime agricultural land. While the current available program funding is limited, the City is continually exploring other funding sources and opportunities to work with landowners to protect land in the City. The City recently received a farmland preservation grant from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS).
In order for land to qualify for the program, it must meet the following criteria:
- The property must be no less than 10 acres in area and be used for agricultural lands. Smaller properties may be submitted as a batch of contiguous parcels in order to meet the minimum area requirements as stated above.
- The property must not contain any land already required to be reserved or set aside for open space, recreation, preservation or similar purposes by any City ordinance, regulation or policy, including requirements imposed under a conditional use permit, conditional rezoning, Planned Unit Development zoning, subdivision or site plan approval, variance, or other action by the City Council, the Planning Commission, the Board of Zoning Appeals, or other authorized entity.
- No uses, buildings or structures, other than those expressly permitted under the preservation easements, are allowed to be conducted or located on the property.
- In order to be eligible for preservation of agricultural lands, no portion of the agricultural lands may contain any of the following soil types: Mixed Alluvial Land; Mucky Peat; Mucky Peat, shallow over loams; Mucky Peat, shallow over sands; and Tidal Marsh. These limitations on soil types do not apply to open space preservation or to property located wholly or partially in the Fentress Airfield Overlay District, as established by the City Zoning Ordinance. Soil types are determined on the basis of the most current U.S. Department of Agriculture soil survey.
What Are the Benefits to Landowners?
The Landowner benefits from OSAP are numerous. The OSAP Program is designed to bridge the gap between the short-term economic pressures on farmland and natural areas and the long-term benefits of farmland and open space preservation. A few of the benefits to program participants are:
- The landowner is paid for the sale of development rights, but retains title and other property rights.
- Parents can transfer land to their children at farm value or permanent open space value rather than at a higher development value.
- Farmland preservation reduces conflicts between agricultural/non-agricultural neighborhoods.
The City itself benefits from the OSAP program by reducing the need for future tax increases that would be needed to pay for the expansion of suburban areas and infrastructure to serve it. The program helps to preserve our natural resources that protect our water quality, provide wildlife habitat, and enrich our quality of life. It also helps to sustain the family farm as part of the local economy and promotes the development of agriculture-related businesses, tourism, and recreation.
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