More homes could be built on Escambia County agriculture land under proposed zoning change
Some residents are concerned a vague proposed agriculture zoning change might allow for more homes to be built on farmland in Escambia County.
The Planning Board voted 4-2 Tuesday to recommend the change to the Board of County Commissioners. If eventually passed, the change would allow for owners to split off their farmhouses into 1-acre parcels and sell them separately from the farmland.
Officials said the change is needed to adapt to the changing agriculture landscape as it shifts away from mom-and-pop farms to much larger ones. But residents like Jacqueline Rogers, who has been involved in rural development issues, is concerned that those who purchase the farmland could build more houses on it.
"I'm not unsympathetic to the people that might want to do this, but sometimes if you don't want to live in a town house anymore, you just move," Rogers said. "You don't recreate the area that you're living in. If you don't want to live on a farm, you sell it and some other people can come in and farm."
The intent of agriculture zoning, which allows just one home per 20 acres, is to keep tracts of productive land together, said Andrew Holmer, manager of Escambia County's Development Services Department. But over the years, the county has received questions about whether it is possible for owners to separate farmhouses from the land itself.
"Let's say in the north end of the county there's a family farm and Mom and Pop have gone and the kids want to sell the farm. Well, somebody else wants to buy the agriculture part, the farming land itself, but they don't want the house," Holmer said. "Well, we don't have any sort of exception that would say 'Alright, well, you can cut out an acre or two with the house on it and sell it.'"
The zoning change simply says the house had to be established before the agriculture zoning designation itself and on a minimum 1-acre lot to separate it from the farming land. The county staff didn't yet know how many farms would be eligible for the new zoning change.
Planning Board members declined to add further recommendations for restrictions, such as a farm having a minimum of 20 acres to separate its home.
If passed, the county would have no mechanism to prevent the purchaser of the land from constructing a new home on the property. Although, the new home couldn't then be further separated into another 1-acre plot and sold because the home wouldn't have been built before agriculture zoning was established in the 1990s.
"It's not opening up farmland for subdivisions. It's simply giving an option for folks to sell off the house," Holmer said.
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Theresa Blackwell, a Beulah resident who also keeps up with development issues, said she wanted the zoning change further modified to better protect agriculture lands from development.
"I have no problem with breaking out that one house for the poor farmer who can't farm anymore. That is not an issue for me. What is an issue for me is the person who buys the agricultural land and then builds a house on it. That is a doubling of residential immediately on that site," Blackwell said.
Wayne Briske, chairman of the Planning Board, said that while he does see the door open for more homes being constructed, he doesn't see hundreds and hundreds of homes coming to agricultural land.
"I don't see it as a huge problem of redevelopment over and over and over again. There will be some cases of that," Briske said. "What I see happening is there'll be some cases where someone sells off the house. The person who gets (the land) puts another house on it."
Madison Arnold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 850-435-8522.