Riverheads candidates debate preservation issues

Story by Chris Graham

Candidates for the Riverheads District seat on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors hear the question every day.

What do you think we should do to preserve our agricultural heritage here in Augusta County?

A popular idea being bandied about in ag circles in recent months involves the creation of a purchase-of-development rights program that would allow farmers to exchange their future development rights for money in the here and now.

Programs of this nature have popped up across the state and across the country.

Riverheads independent board of supervisors candidate Tom Sensabaugh, for one, is not a fan of them.

“I oppose this, one, because I want to know, where does the funding come from? Rockbridge County has established a program, but there are no funds in place to pay for it,” Sensabaugh said at a candidates forum held in Verona last week.

“Another problem I have with this is that we’re talking about an individual giving up their property rights … forever. That doesn’t make sense to me. What happens in a few years when times get tight and they might need a little extra money to make it through?” Sensabaugh said.

“They’ve given up their ability to do anything at that point, and with the way property values are, probably for pennies on the dollar.”

Another independent in the running for the board of supervisors seat, Nancy Sorrells, supports the creation of a PDR program as part of a multifaceted strategy for boosting up the county agriculture industry.

“If we don’t take decisive action now, we’re going to lose a part of our heritage that dates back all the way to 1738,” Sorrells said at last week’s forum.

“We’re chipping, chipping, chipping away at our agricultural heritage as we speak. If we don’t look out, it’s going to be gone.”

Republican nominee Tom Nelson wants to devote his time and efforts toward the creation of a county historical commission that could be consulted before leaders were to make planning and zoning decisions.

“The two cities have historical commissions, but the county doesn’t. I really feel like we’re missing the boat here,” Nelson said. “We could use the input of a historical commission in conjunction with the community-development office as rezonings are considered and other planning decisions are made across the county.

“I know the value of historic preservation,” said Nelson, who led a campaign in Northern Virginia to save the Manassas Civil War battlefield before relocating to the Shenandoah Valley more than a decade ago.

“I also know that a lot of people here might have questions about the value. But I’ve seen it work, and I know it could work here,” Nelson said.

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