Va. property-rights dispute prompts legislation

Michael Felberbaum, AP Business Writer
Va. property-rights dispute prompts legislation

Fauquier county farmer Martha Boneta speaks during a press conference as Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William, right, looks on at the Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013 in Richmond, Va. Boneta's property-rights skirmish with her local government has prompted a Lingamfelter to propose legislation aimed at strengthening the state's Right to Farm Act. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- A Virginia lawmaker is sponsoring legislation prompted by a Fauquier County farmer's property-rights skirmish with her local government over selling handmade items like goat milk soap and sheep yarn, as well as hosting a birthday party for her friend's daughter without obtaining proper permits.

Del. Scott Lingamfelter's proposal would amend the state's 1981 Right to Farm Act to make it clear that farmers can sell items that are incidental to their farm operations on their own properties. The bill discussed by the Prince William County Republican at a Tuesday news conference also would provide legal remedies for localities that violate the law.

Farmer Martha Boneta said she was fined last year by Fauquier County for selling handmade crafts and other items without obtaining a proper permit at her 70-acre farm in Paris, where she also sells fresh vegetables, herbs and eggs. Boneta's supporters protested by carrying pitchforks to local government offices. The 42-year-old, who has a business license to operate the small farm store, has since sued the county for millions in civil damages and fees and closed her farm to visitors.

Lingamfelter said the county's actions violated Boneta's fundamental rights and unfairly restricted her property rights.

"It shouldn't be an issue," said Lingamfelter, who also is running for lieutenant governor. "It offends your fundamental sense of what is right when you hear about it."

The bill "brings more specificity" to the act and allows "people that are zoned agricultural to do agriculture," Lingamfelter said.

Boneta, who started her family farm about six years ago and has about 160 farm animals, said the right for farmers to sell Christmas tree stands and mistletoe on a tree farm or sell a cold lemonade on a hot summer day at an apple orchard may "seem like little things, but they can be the difference between paying the bills and not paying the bills."

"If our family farms can't make ends meet, then we will lose them," she said.

A request seeking comment from Fauquier County officials was not immediately returned on Tuesday.


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