10 Acre Lot Question

I have been following up on my previous blog regarding small farm development in Orange County.  A key to any successful entireprise is being covered by the NC Bona Fide Farm statute.   I find the statute wording to be confusing, but a key provision is that 10 acres of land needs to be comprised of land in production or contiguous woodlands or wetlands.  Based on this rule, the minimum practical size for a Bona Fide farm in NC is approximately 11 acres, 10 to meet the rule in the statue and at leasts an acre for buildings and roads. 

Looking at tracts of land which are available in Orange County, what seems to be happening is that developers purchase large tracts and them divide them up into plots which are just larger than 10 acres.  This seems to imply that 10 acres is a minium lot size in certain Orange County zoning designations.  However, I have been reading through the land use ordinance and can't find it.  Can someone point me to the basis for these 10 acre lots?

 I am trying to work through the logic on this.  On the one hand it could be an unintentional zoning error which has inadvertantly limited small farm development in Orange County.  Or it could be a deliberate plan to sell large plots of land for larger homes while intentionally preventing agricultural activity in the vicinity by keeping the lots just a little bit too small.

 I would appreciate any thoughts.


Lots are created at just over ten acres as a result of the state statutes allowing counties to regulate the subdivision of land.  The enabling statue exempts from regulation all division of land resulting in parcels grater than ten acres.  Since most divisions are for residential purposes, there is no benefit to the developer/land owner to put an extra acre in the lot.  (If a ten-acre lot will bring $100,000, an eleven-acre lot, for residential purposes, would likely bring only $103,500) If there was a ready market for 11-12 acre mini-farms, with a corresponding premium in price, I'm sure things would change.

There is a state statute that allows any property owner to divide his or her land into lots of 10 acres or more without approval of the local government.  Consequently rural developers in Orange County tend to divide into 10 acre lots so that they will not have to comply with Orange County's subdivision ordinance.  These developers tend to have an incentive to squeeze the lot sizes down to as close to 10 acres as possible.

Mark is also correct in his comments on the intent of developers. They don't have farming in mind, they want rural estates with expensive homes. They want as many lots as they possibly can carve out of the land they purchase. They can escape all the months/years it takes for subdivision approval in Orange and its municipalities.Many rural property owners with large parcels can get tax breaks (County) for agricultual uses, designating various use sizes within their parcel at a minimum of 10 acres.http://www.co.orange.nc.us/assessor/exemption.asp#land_use  

Mark thanks for clearing that up for me.   Unfortunately, the answer is kind of depressing as well as ironic.  Both the Bona Fide farm statute and the >10 acre expemption are state laws which take away local authority.  The Bona Fide farm statute attempts to facilitate farming, but creates a defacto minimum size of approximately 12 acres (I'm assuming 10 acres to meet the statute minimum for land in agricultural use + 2 acres for buildings and roads).  The second statute creates appears to creat an incentive for land owners to create those 10.0001 acre lots that you see all over the county which tend to sell for $100 to $200 K depending on location.During my ride in to work today (I bike from Chapel Hill to RTP like a good Orange County Progessive :-) ) I was grappling with how to get us off the path of ending up with a county full of McMansions on 10 acre lots which surely is the path to economic and social stagnation and decline.  Seems as though we need to either advocate for changes in state law, or try to change our local incentives for development.  If I come up with an idea I'll post for further comment.

You are right Jeff.  We need to incentivize small cluster development or something.  I think the county has worked before on Transfers of Development Rights, but some people think such a program would be inequitable.  I hold out little hope for changing the state law on the right to subdivide 10 acre lots.Maybe (at least for your purposes) it would be better to focus on changing the farm size threshold down to like 7.5 or 8 acres.Or perhaps you can find someone who divided 25 acres into a 10 and a 15 acre lot.  Good luck.

Mr. Danner you look at the state law as taking away local authority. I look at the law as protecting the property owner's rights from bullying local authorities.

Thanks to all for reviewing my issue and commenting.  Mark, your inference is correct that I am considering a venture myself, but I also have general interest in how our state and local laws impact how we utilized the incredible endowment of resources that we have in Orange County.Poppalax, I am primariliy interested in understanding our our laws and statutes impact economic development.  My sense is that our current structures, intentionally or otherwise, facilitate a lot of homes on 10 acre lots.  This arrangement would results in less property tax revenue per acre for housing compared to developments with smaller lots, and also tend to exclude agicultural businesses because the lots are just a bit to small to meet the bona fide farm criteria. I should think that there is a way to change the incentives to promote a more economically viable future for the county while not trampling property owner rights.  It's not clear to me that the State govnerning is inherently less prone to "bullying" than a local government.  Futher, a local government is likely to be more responsive to local concerns as they need to be elected by local voters.

Mr. Danner in the first place rural landowners are less of a drain on the county budget. That cannot be said for those small lots in a town. They require more services than rural folks.As for economic development why not ask the Mayor Chilton how Carrboro promote economic development. There were two businesses on Hwy 54W that are no longer in business and Carrboro played a role in those businesses being vacant now. I also wonder if you have ever lived in rural Orange County from the comments made in this thread alone? I was at a community group meeting last night and the main topic is how do we in the rural sector get our voices heard because at the present time the group feeling is we have no elected voice.

You are correct in your assessment that I have not lived in Rural Orange county.  I live in Chapel Hill and previously in Kennett Square, PA.  Both towns surrounding by rural areas.  In both cases I have intentionally purchased a house inside of town limits on a small lot in order to utilize services efficiently (water lines, schools), etc. and due to a preference to be able to walk or bike to places I like to go. The town/rural debate in both locations was similar with each group being convinced and being able to present plausible arguments that they were subsidizing the lifestyle and services of the other group.  I believe the truth to be that a healthy county needs towns, farms, forrests, reservoirs and that we are tasked with striking a balance among competing priorities.I am curious to know what the voices in the community meeting you attending were advocating.  I would be surprised to hear that filling in the county with houses on 10 acre lots was a popular option.  What changes in land use/taxation statutes/laws was the group advocating?

The rural community does not view The Government(s) as a friend or a voice. They could be but, most of the times they are trying to put some kind of unwanted project in our area i.e. waste tranfer/landfill, airport, sledge, reservoir and etc. Land to a farmer is their retirement because the children have moved away or cannot afford the taxes when the parents past away, so they sell. Hopefully you have heard the saying land rich dirt poor, that is very true. In the meeting I attended I was the closes to being a farmer and I am part timer at best.As for services if I call 911 someone will respond but it will take longer. I have a place to take my trash but that is closing in Sept. and the hours are being shorten at other sites so folks in town can go to a library. If you have kids and I do then they have a school to attend even if the bus ride is over a hour one way. I could list more but I am sure some of you have stop reading this already.

Worlds colliding? Don Belk writes that this is a rising trend here too--"In both Chatham and Pender counties, the number of farmers is increasing, and the average age of farmers is decreasing."On tiny plots, a new generation of farmers emerges - USATODAY.com

…a movement in which young people — most of whom come from cities and suburbs — are taking up what may be the world's oldest profession: organic farming…

The article you linked it a good example of what I have been trying to explore on this blog.  I think that Chatham and Orange counties are well positioned to participate in the resurgence of small, organic farming operations.  What I have been trying to understand is how our land use laws and statues fit with that vision. I think the state should reduce the size requirements for a Bona Fide farm and am looking for the right organization to work with to make a proper petition Raleigh.

It is hard to compare Chatham and Orange the cost of living in Orange is much higher. You can buy land in Chatham cheaper than Orange so small farming grows. As for organic farming it will not be able to meet the needs of our population, it does help to replace those farmers who are stopping due to a number of reasons.I can and will check with the Manager at Carrboro Farmers Market but last year there was only 2 certified organic farms selling at Carrboro.


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