Existing land uses in Highland County are primarily forestry and agriculture. Nearly 22% is national forest and about 5% is state natural area and forest. (See Map #17) Such federal and state lands are reserved primarily for conservation and recreational purposes. Approximately 36% of land in the county is used for agricultural purposes.


Much of the County’s remaining land is undeveloped, privately-owned forest. About 1% of the land in the County is developed.


The current land use in Highland County is the result of gradual development over time. Existing land uses play an important role in determining future land use trends. All parcels of land in Highland County are classified into one of the following general categories:


• Single-Family Residential – Urban

Ÿ Single-Family Residential – Suburban  up to 20 acres

• Multi-Family Residential

• Commercial/Industrial

• Agricultural / Undeveloped  20-100 acres

Ÿ Agricultural / Undeveloped  over 100 acres

• Tax Exempt (Government, Religious, Charitable, Educational or Others)


According to local revenue records (2010), there are 4,077 parcels of land in Highland County. Of these, 203 are tax-exempt. The largest land-use category is single family residential, and the smallest is educational. In 2010, the total appraised value of Highland County real estate was over $693 million.

The table below illustrates the growth in county land value over the last 4 years:


Real Estate Value                  2006                  2010

Land-Use Taxable

Building Value              190,610,700      206,737,600       

Land Value                    415,219,900      414,665,000

Total Value                    605,830,600      621,402,600


Land-Use Tax Exempt

Building Value                15,520,600        17,370,600

Land Value                      54,409,100        54,517,200       

Total Value                      69,929,700        71,887,800


Grand Total Value       675,760,300      693,290,400


Source: Offices of the Commissioner of the Revenue and the Treasurer, Highland County.



Blue Grass District

Highland’s Blue Grass District runs vertically along the western-most portion of the county. It is comprised of 60,299 acres. Within the district is the village of Blue Grass, a small community characterized by

a tight linear pattern of development. The village is located along Routes 640 and 642, which intersect the village center. The community of New Hampden, located to the southwest of Blue Grass, is somewhat smaller and more dispersed.


Monterey District

The Monterey District, comprised of 61,518 acres, extends along Route 220 on both sides through the middle of the county. It does not include the Town of Monterey. A potential growth corridor exists along the north / south and east / west primary highways passing through the Town of Monterey.


Stonewall District

The Stonewall District is the largest in area among the County’s magisterial districts, consisting of 67,238 acres. Its eastern-most portion is comprised of the George Washington National Forest and the Highland Wildlife Management Area constitutes its southwest corner. The community of McDowell is the oldest permanent community in the county, but lacks the size and diversity of development found in Monterey. It is primarily a collection of residences and a few service-related businesses located along Route 250.

There is growth area potential adjacent to McDowell pending the outcome of the Battlefield Preservation Plan now in development.


Town of Monterey

As the County seat and only incorporated Town in Highland, Monterey has grown to be the largest community in the county. Major facilities in the town include the County Courthouse, the post office, The Highland Center, plus numerous shops, restaurants, and services. Adjacent to the town are the county elementary-high school complex and the Highland Telephone Cooperative.


The Town serves as a distribution center for government services and agricultural goods, and is the center of the County’s tourist industry. Both the Highland County Fair
and the Highland Maple Festival are centered in Monterey each year. There is a proportionally balanced mix of land uses in the Town which provides it with healthy economic and social unity.


Land Use Plan

Land use planning entails the designation of local areas for various activities, such as business, industry, housing, conservation, and recreation. These land uses are based on the suitability of those parcels for specific activities and on the community needs. Suitability is usually determined by the characteristics of the land and of the environment, available infrastructure, and existing adjacent uses. It is the responsibility of the community, through its elected officials, to decide which areas of the County should be conserved and which areas should be developed.

Since development can either enhance or detract from a community, land use policies must include consideration of local cultural, natural, and historic attributes. They must also provide for the fair and equitable treatment of all landowners.


The following land use discussion is based on the cumulative analysis of each of the preceding sections. It is a combination of present land use patterns, landowner’s initiative, and the County’s goals and objectives for future land use. The Plan strives to establish a guide for possible future development that will result in cohesive and logical growth. It is also designed to be flexible enough to accommodate changing conditions.


Highland County’s Future Land Use Plan should be based on community principles.
It is crucial for attributes that most define local character to be identified, protected and promoted. Highland is distinguished by breathtaking mountain and valley scenery, vast stretches of pastoral land, a unique role in American history, and a close-knit sense of community. The most desirable developments would be those that complement the County’s natural setting. Designated areas for development should be encouraged in lieu of random and scattered growth.


Development of Business and Industry

The County is genuinely concerned about stabilizing and expanding its employment base, and acknowledges that locating certain businesses and industries in Highland may indeed be beneficial to the people of Highland County. Because of the County’s desire to preserve the rural character, it is recommended that potential business or industrial development sites, whenever possible, be encouraged to locate in “park-like” settings and encourages the centralized location of new industry within the County.


Industries requiring extensive air or water are unlikely to be feasible in Highland County.  Because of the delicacy of local ground and surface water, potential industries handling or storing hazardous materials should be stringently evaluated and discouraged in many locations due to karst and watershed issues. In addition, proper buffers between new industries, utilities, and existing residential and agricultural uses are recommended to minimize impact on agricultural landowners.

Commercial Development

While some of our citizens’ retail needs can be met by patronizing Highland’s current commercial sector, many agree that an expanded retail base is desirable. It is important to residents, however, that increased commercial opportunities do not bring with them excessive signage, large expanses of open parking, little or no landscaping, poor pedestrian access, or building design that is inconsistent with the flavor of the County.


Guidelines for future commercial growth will encourage development in existing business districts and gradual growth at the edges of such areas. An expanding retail base should be encouraged in Highland County.  The County Zoning Ordinance should be reviewed and modified to encourage sustainable commercial growth practices and adequate parking areas. 


Residential Development

As residential development occurs, it must be done in accordance with ordinances and applicable regulations. 


Highland County’s Zoning and Subdivision Ordinances must ensure that future residential development is sensitive not only to the quality of life for our current residents, but for future residents as well. In addition, it is recommended that they preserve the character of Highland County’s rural/cultural landscape.

Although additional development is anticipated, it should be planned carefully
to correspond with the current and future placement of utilities and infrastructure. The County should guide the placement of new residential growth and expansions or extensions of existing subdivisions.


Densities of new residential developments will be determined by many factors including: the Future Land Use Plan, zoning, presence of utilities and roads, environmental factors such as steep slopes, proximity to floodplain, presence of karst topography, soil suitability, and public input/involvement.


Wind Energy

The Virginia Renewables Siting Scoring System (VRS3) is a screening tool to help land use decision makers evaluate the viability of land within their jurisdictions for wind energy installations.  It includes land use and environmental criteria as well as community development considerations.


The VRS3 was consequently designed for use by government decision makers in the Commonwealth of Virginia to aid land use planning related to wind and solar energy.  Although developers, private citizens, businesses, and non-profit groups may use the VRS3, the features and methods of these tools are designed to facilitate land-use planning and land-use decision-making.


In order to support these types of analysis, the VRS3 provides a workbook to help local officials evaluate the potential for renewable energy systems in their communities.  The workbook can be obtained at the following website:


Battlefield Preservation

Highland County recognizes the important role that the McDowell Battlefield plays in not only maintaining the area’s character, but in attracting tourists and economic benefits to the County.

The McDowell Battlefield core area surrounds the village of McDowell.  The over 2,000 acre area around Sitlington Hill and the Bullpasture River was the scene of the heaviest fighting in May, 1862.


A battlefield preservation plan has been completed for the McDowell Battlefield.


Land Use Challenges

Steep terrain and the high proportion of public ownership leave relatively little of the land area in Highland County feasible to develop. Thus it is in the county’s interest to ensure that suitable sites are developed as efficiently and carefully as possible, in ways that serve the long-term needs of county citizens.


It is important to encourage development that protects the environmental integrity and economic prosperity of the county.


Another facet of Highland’s current land use is its appeal as a destination for second-home development in recreational settings. This contrasts with the continuing need for affordable residential options for local citizens. Increasing land prices and property tax values will make it increasingly difficult to balance these interests.

Agriculture and forestry management are the County’s traditional land uses. As the County starts to experience more growth, there may be less understanding of these

mainstays of the rural economy. These important uses will need to be protected and supported. Immediate land use challenges facing Highland County include the following:


• To balance varied needs of citizens, especially as more part-time residents are added to the community


• To protect the County’s significant natural and historic resources


• To support the county’s traditional rural lifestyle, including productive farming and forestry


• To address issues of affordable housing and employment as they relate to land use


• To promote connectivity among the places where people live, work, and play.


Highland County’s Growth Areas

The designation of potential growth areas should be predicated upon environmental constraints and the presence of existing or planned utilities. Three potential growth areas exist in the county.



Existing or Planned Utilities






Public Land




Prime Agricultural



Existing Public Water & Sewer


A small portion along West Mill Alley











Existing Public Water

Runs North & South through McDowell along Bullpasture River and also along Crab Run










Primary Road Corridor Surrounding Monterey

No Existing Public Water or Sewer











* “Prime Agricultural Land” refers to land that is suitable for cultivation, not merely pasture land.



Strategies for the Future

In conclusion, the County shall consider all statutory tools available to promote coordinated and harmonious development and the health, safety, prosperity, and general welfare of county residents and landowners, including but not limited to:

a.                land use taxation

b.                flexible zoning

c.                agricultural and forestal districts

d.                conservation easements

e.                 scenic road and river designations


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