Smith Mountain Lake Development and the Eco System

    The rapid pace of Smith Mountain Lake development has residents and three county governments scrambling to protect the lakefront environment and to provide new infrastructure. Hundreds of new residential housing units -- mostly condos and townhouses -- have been recently approved by supervisors of the three counties that surround Smith Mountain Lake. Many completed construction in 2007 despite the slower real estate market.

    The lake is approaching development saturation with few decent waterfront lots left, and in 2008 the real value is in purchasing an already established waterfront home.

    Lake water quality is threatened as new home construction eliminates natural waterfront buffers of native trees and vegetation that previously filtered lake pollutants like lawn fertilizers and pesticides. For now, Smith Mountain Lake water quality remains excellent, largely due to the vigilance of organizations like SMLA and TLAC. In 2005, all three lakefront counties passed new regulations that forbid the feeding of waterfowl within 500 feet of the lake, to help control water quality. In 2007, Franklin County began a program to enforce regular maintenance and pump-out of septic systems near the lake. And for several years, boaters have been forbidden to dump wastes of any kind into Smith Mountain Lake. SMLA has recorded and publicized water quality test results continuously since 1987 -- a database unmatched by any major lake in the USA. In 2007, 47 volunteers tested Smith Mountain Lake; many meaasurements of water quality were among the best ever recorded.

    Smith Mountain Lake is Virginia's busiest recreational freshwater body for boaters, but there are no boating horsepower or speed limits on the lake. In 2006, the Virginia Assembly increased funding for enforcement of boating safety and noise laws; Virginia's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) increased the number and visibility of patrols on Smith Mountain Lake's 20,400 acres. In 2007, the Virginia Assembly passed a law mandating safe boating education for operators that will phase in over several years. SMLA successfully lobbied for the education mandate and will continue to lobby for for nighttime boating speed limits. Speed limits failed to pass in 2007 but will be reintroduced in 2008.

    Lakefront residential property taxes in all three lakefront counties are about 1/2 of 1% of fair market value, so a $500,000 property is taxed at about $2,500/year. Properties are reassessed once every four years. The latest county appraisals of lakefront homes were about 75% higher than four years ago -- following another 50% increase just four years earlier. There is no reduction of taxes for primary homes or for low-income or retired homeowners, so everyone pays the same property tax rates.

    There is no local "town level" of government at Smith Mountain Lake, so the three lake-surrounding county governments face new demands for public services like traffic safety enforcement, road improvements, and trash removal, plus new infrastructure needs like public water and sewage. The lake's first public water line was laid by Bedford County in 2005; Franklin County became a partner and extended it across the county line. Bedford County began construction of sewage lines and a treatment facility in 2005; Franklin County is exploring feasibility.

    The three county governments and Appalachian Power Company control lake development. Ferrum College and volunteer organizations like SMLA and TLAC monitor water quality. Some local residents and organizations want to establish an additional local level of taxation and control -- a "special tax district" or a "town of Smith Mountain Lake" spanning all three lakefront counties, to support an increase in tax-based services provided around the lake.

    To better understand SML development issues, you can:

    If you have any additional questions, please visit us on the web at: http://smithmountainlakefronthomes.com/





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