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SG-W:/ Clinton County also passes PDR ordinance



Title: Clinton County also passes PDR ordinance
For Immediate Release                                                  
Contact: Jennifer Vincent
Nov. 27, 2002                                                         
(517) 324-9276
Clinton and Kent county commissioners say yes to new farmland protection programs,
Several counties around the state to follow

EAST LANSING, Nov. 27, 2002 - Clinton and Kent counties today joined a growing number of Michigan counties by passing county ordinances to create farmland protection programs that allow for growth, while designating areas for future preservation through a voluntary purchase of development rights (PDR) programs.

Clinton County Commissioners passed the Farmland Development Rights Ordinance, 7-0, culminating more than 18 months of work by the work group. In Kent County, despite aggressive opposition from homebuilders and realtors, commissioners approved the ordinance 14-5.  In both counties, agriculture, which is under accelerating development pressure, contributes more than $100 million to the local economy.

Earlier this fall, Lapeer and Leelanau counties adopted farmland protection ordinances and Barry, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, Shiawassee, Grand Traverse and Antrim counties are all in the process of finalizing program details for the adoption of a county ordinance in the upcoming months.  Other communities are also beginning to discuss how the program can be tailored to their county.

"This was truly a grassroots effort," explained Dr. David Skjaerlund of Rural Partners of Michigan, which assisted the work groups in identifying land use options and designing  programs specifically to meet the needs of the people who live there. "We're seeing a huge ground swell of interest in developing these farmland preservation programs across the state."

In a complimentary effort, Clinton County Commissioners also approved their review and update of their comprehensive master plan, including more specific strategies to protect farmland and plan more efficiently to accommodate future growth.  Between 1982-1997, Clinton County lost over 22,000 acres of farmland while over 4,000 new residential parcels were created from 1991-1999.

"We recognized that we have been talking about better land management for 30 years, but have not done anything about it," said Clinton County Commissioner Russel Bauerle.  "We recognized that if we didn't start taking steps to protect farmland and agriculture, it would be too late.  This program is a good beginning for us."

Under Public Act 262 of 2000, the Michigan Agricultural Preservation Fund was established to allow local units of government to design programs for a 75 percent funding match from the state. The state then leverages national dollars, with nearly $1 billion in federal funding available nationwide over the next 10 years, as an additional source for funding local programs. The proposed state criteria for communities to qualify for matching funds is currently being reviewed and is open for public comment during two public meetings, Dec. 2 in Roscommon and Dec. 9 in East Lansing.

"The state has given communities another land use tool in their toolbox, and they are taking that opportunity to create programs that compliment their master plans and local land use planning strategies," commented Sharon Steffens, a member of the State Agricultural Preservation Fund Board.  "Our next step will be to identify additional long-term funding sources dedicated to meet the growing need and interest in protecting Michigan's valuable farmland."

In Kent County, where a work group of about 20 people met every two weeks for about seven months, homebuilder and realtor groups charged that a farmland preservation program would limit the supply of available land for future development, and thus, create an affordable housing shortage.

 "The argument was diffused when people realized that affordable housing is the result of development design," stated Skjaerlund.  "Lancaster County in Pennsylvania has protected 55,000 acres of farmland through a similar program that has been in place for the last 20 years, which is supported by local homebuilders.  Even with aggressive farmland protection efforts, Lancaster County is the eighth most affordable place to live in the Northeast and the most affordable place to live in the state of Pennsylvania."

>From 1982-1997, Kent County has lost over 36,000 acres of farmland.  Kent County's Urban Sprawl Task Force Report, completed by the county commissioners, established a goal of protecting half of its remaining agricultural lands, 92,000 acres or 143 square-miles, which represents only 18 percent of the county's land mass, directing present and future development needs to the remaining 82 percent.  The county will target protecting the first 25,000 acres through the newly adopted farmland development rights ordinance.

"This program is really designed not to conflict with planned growth, but to help minimize the permanent impacts of urban sprawl on agriculture," stated Kent County Commissioner Jack Horton. "Farmland preservation programs are not anti-growth."

"This is the first step to having a viable agricultural industry in Kent County for years to come," said Denny Heffron of Belding who actively farms in Kent County.  "For me, up until now, I questioned whether or not there would be a future for our farm as it operates today.  Because most of the land we farm is rented and will be changing hands in the near future, it was a real threat that it would be divided into lots and sold for development.  This program provides the options many landowners are seeking."

"I see this farmland preservation program benefiting the city," said Kent Commissioner Harold Mast prior to voting on the ordinance.  "This is probably one of the most visionary things we can do.  This is a way to protect open space and the environment for our children."

In a recent statewide telephone survey administered by the American Farmland Trust, funded by People And Land and conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing, three out of four Michiganders surveyed said it was a good idea for their community and the state to implement policies to better manage growth and development by offering state and local dollars to encourage growth in areas where it should be, and government funds to preserve farmland in rural areas.

Both Kent and Clinton counties will move forward by appointing county agricultural preserve boards, which will finalize the administrative details for the application cycle and help identify local funding options. Local funding options may include an allocation from the general fund, bonds, private conservancy funds, land owner donations or even new millages similar to the one passed this month by voters in Peninsula Township near Traverse City.

For more information, contact David Skjaerlund, 517-204-7686 or Stacy Sheridan at 517-702-1530.
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__________________
Mike Garfield
Ecology Center
117 N. Division
Ann Arbor, MI  48104
(734) 761-3186 ext. 104
(734) 663-2414 (fax)
michaelg@ecocenter.org
www.ecocenter.org