Lenawee eyes plan to preserve
Owners could sell development
By Erica Blake
Lenawee County officials have watched homes being built,
one by one, on land where crops were grown and animals
Now, they are among officials in about 18 counties across
Michigan working on creating a way to ensure that quality
farmland stays farmland forever.
County commissioners continue to digest a proposed ordinance
that has been dividing communities across the country.
If approved, the Lenawee County Farmland and Open Space
Development Rights Ordinance would allow farmers to sell
the development rights of their land. If this is done,
the land can be used only for agricultural purposes, permanently.
Scott Everett, the director of the Central Great Lakes
Region for the American Farmland Trust, said that ordinances
like the one Lenawee County is considering are being enacted
around the country. He acknowledged that although not
popular among developers, the preservation ordinances
are important in protecting the agricultural industry.
"Protecting farmland ainít easy. Itís very hard
to do," Mr. Everett said, adding that the best programs
in the country took time to get rolling after the program
was adopted. "These are generational farms and deep
down a farmer really doesnít want to crack that farm up,
but the developmental value is so tempting."
Lenawee County is home to 336,468 acres of farmland,
according to the 1997 agricultural census. That makes
it the third-largest county in the state in terms of land
dedicated to farming, Mr. Everett said.
But at the same time, it is sixth on the list of those
counties that are losing farming acreage each year. Between
1982 and 1997, Lenawee County lost nearly 40,000 acres
of farmland, Mr. Everett said.
Annually farms in Lenawee County generate about $102.8
million in total agricultural sales.
County Commissioner Larry Gould has farmed land in Lenawee
County for decades. He stressed that the ordinance would
be available to farmers who are interested in preserving
their farmland and would not be forced on anyone.
But he acknowledged that there are still plenty of questions
to be worked out. Attorneys are researching issues such
as who would be eligible for purchasing the farmsí development
rights. For example, would it be done by the townships
and the county, or could other farmers or perhaps out-of-state
organizations buy the rights. Mr. Gould said the county
would have to come up with a way of funding the purchasing
of property rights.
But the chairman of the county commission said he fully
supports the concept. "Itís what we call smart growth,"
he said. "Weíll take the most productive land and
keep it agricultural while the less productive land can
be used for homes."
Mr. Everett said federal grants are available to counties
that have farmland preservation ordinances in place. Currently,
only eight of Michiganís 83 counties have ordinances on
the books, he said.
Commissioner Rob Hall, who owns a business in Hudson,
said he is interested in talking more about the proposed
ordinance, which has yet to be discussed fully by the
board or brought before a public hearing. He said in addition
to having concerns about where the money comes from or
how it will be administered, he has heard gripes about
the fact that those farms that are preserved under this
ordinance would be labeled farmland forever.
"I donít think anybodyís against preserving farmland.
I think people are against this ordinance in the way it
goes about doing that," he said. "The way it
is written now, it doesnít give us anywhere to go with
expansion. There is concern that this is forever with
no ifs, ands, or buts about it."