Another developer goes the agricultural route
TBO.com – September 6, 2011
BROOKSVILLE – For the second time in three months, a landowner has decided to forego developing a large parcel of land in Hernando County and instead turn it over to cattle grazing and other agricultural uses.
And both landowners stand to gain substantial tax savings because of it.
Thomas Malouf of Tampa will ask planning and zoning commissioners Monday for permission to take his 148 acres of land on the northwest corner of Yontz Road and U.S. 98 and rezone it from commercial and single family to agricultural.
Malouf originally intended to turn the land into a mix of residential homes and commercial but has abandoned that idea.
Malouf instead wants to graze cattle on the property and plant fruit trees and blueberries.
The rezoning request comes just three months after landowner Hardy Huntley asked planning commissioners to rezone a 20-acre strip on the northeast side of State Road 50 and Brookridge Central Boulevard for cow pasture.
That zoning request took county planners by surprise because of the abundance of commercial activity in the area.
Rezoning property from commercial to agricultural is a huge tax savings for the property owners because they are able to take advantage of the “greenbelt” agricultural classification.
As a commercial property, the Huntley property had an assessed land value of $3.2 million in 2009 according to the property appraiser’s website.
As agricultural land, it is valued at $422,000.
Huntley’s tax bill also went down: from about $39,000 in 2009 when it was zoned commercial to $6,400 this year — some $32,000 savings a year.
Planning Commissioner John Scharch said he cannot talk at length about the upcoming zoning request because he will be making a recommendation on the item.
However, he admits this particular request stands out.
“I find it interesting, let’s say that,” Scharch said. “It sparks my curiosity.”
Malouf said in his application to the county planning department he bought cows and intends to keep them on the property.
“I intend to plant hay, some fruit trees and have spoken to some growers who have an interest in helping me establish and farm blueberries,” Malouf wrote.
Planning Commissioner Robert Widmar said the economy appears to be driving some of these recent trends to rezone large swaths of property to agricultural.
“I don’t think there’s a groundswell to return to agriculture (in Hernando County),” Widmar said. “I think it’s strictly a tax situation.”
Huntley, for example, is likely “taking advantage of the things he can do to get the lot cleared and get some tax savings,” Widmar said.
John Emerson, chief deputy with the property appraiser’s office, said it’s difficult to compute how much of a tax savings Malouf would realize because it appears as if he plans to divide the property into two different agricultural uses: cattle grazing and fruit farming.
Both carry different classified values, he said.
But it is safe to say that Malouf would realize a substantial tax savings either way because of the greenbelt classification, he said.
“It would make a big difference on the taxable value of the property,” he said.