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Newton part of pilot ag program

Photo by Laura McCallister

Photo by Laura McCallister

Newton County has been selected to participate in a state pilot program to examine ways to conserve and protect agricultural land.

Newton was selected to be the subject of the Agriculture Protection Guide through the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission.

"Our goal is for the end product to detail options that the county and/or property owners can take advantage of to further the preservation of farms and farmlands in Newton County," said Scott Sirotkin, director of the Newton County Department of Development Services. "The protection of agricultural properties is a vital component of the 2050 Plan and has the potential to benefit all of Newton County, which I believe is shown by the fact that every municipality, as well as the school system and the Water and Sewerage Authority, submitted letters of support for our applying for this program."

In fact, widespread support is one of the reasons Newton County was selected, according to Nina Kelly, a planner with NEGRC.

The county has already identified areas where agricultural land should be preserved through its Land Conservation Plan, so Kelly said she can get right to work helping to identify and implement conservation.

Kelly presented several conservation options to commissioners at their Tuesday night meeting, including not extending water and sewer service into agricultural and rural estate zoning districts; amending the zoning ordinance to prohibit or limit subdivisions in agricultural districts; and adopting a development rights program that could include Transferable Development Rights that will allow owners of property zoned for low-density development or conservation use to sell development rights to property owners in higher density areas. The program could also create a mechanism for what is called Purchasing of Agricultural Conservation Easements, to compensate property owners for restrictions on the future use of their land. Another option is an agricultural land mitigation program requiring agricultural mitigation as a condition of rezonings or future land use designations.

The plan must be completed by the end of June. Kelly is seeking feedback from county commissioners and in the spring, the public will have a chance to weigh in through a public meeting.

"There will be no official decision making here. It's just an exploration," she said.