Heacock PDR Deserves A Vote

November 15, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County Commission Chairman Steven Heacock feels it is in everyone's interest to have county commissioners vote on the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) proposal next Tuesday.

"I think it deserves a vote by the board," he said.

Heacock remarked that too many people put in too many hours contributing to the 13-page document to stop now, and too many people took too much time to air their feelings about the program to abandon it at this juncture.

"Those people deserve a vote. Everybody who spoke to it deserves a vote. Frankly, even its opponents deserve a vote from the board, no matter the outcome," he added. "So I don't intend to let it die."

The program was scheduled for a vote before the full commission on Nov. 26, but the plan was rejected 5-to-4 at the committee level on Nov. 12. To bring the PDR measure up for a vote, a commissioner has to raise the issue and Heacock hinted that he might do that.

"It is very much my desire that it be raised on the 26th. I'm open minded, though, and certainly will listen to the discussion as it plays out," he said.

"We're not rushing anything. It's been in development for a couple of years and I would very much like to get it done before I'm out, mainly because it was my initiative."

Heacock, leaving at the end of the year, put together the Urban Sprawl Subcommittee in January 2000 to examine how the county could contain unplanned growth. The group came back with six recommendations on how to do that, and a PDR program was offered as one of two ways to preserve farmland. The other was a transfer of development rights program.

Heacock said he was pleased the public hearing drew 45 comments and lasted three hours and 30 minutes, and that he took careful note of the concerns aired by opponents of the program, including those of the area real estate professionals and builders.

Officers of the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors Home and Building Association of Greater Grand Rapids, criticized the PDR proposal, saying it didn't allow rezoning or for changes to a master plan.

They also were concerned about the proposal's density and infrastructure issues. Their objections, among others, convinced a county committee to recommend denial of the PDR program.

"They want to know that this resolution does not commit the county to financing," Heacock said. "Now, I don't believe it commits us to financing in any way, but folks want assurance of that," he said. "That will be left for future boards to decide on.

"The other issues tend to be black-and-white issues, but there are some that we can play with to help appease some of the opposition."

Heacock said another option the commission has would be to narrow the breadth of the program. The PDR task force suggested preserving up to 92,000 acres, roughly half of the land devoted to growing in the county, while the urban sprawl group recommended setting aside 46,000 acres for the PDR and a similar number for a transfer program.

"Maybe you knock that (acreage) down some to make it a little less onerous," he said.

Although the Grand Valley Metro Council hasn't endorsed the proposed PDR program, the regional planning organization has supported the concept as a tool for managing growth and development. The Metro Council took that stand in 1996 when GVMC put together a set of land-use principles for its members to follow, a membership that has grown to 33 governments.

"It's not the end-all cure of sprawl. But for crying out loud, it is one of those tools that in certain situations work. It's like annexation. Is an out-and-out annexation always the right answer? No, but it is an answer at times," said GVMC Executive Director Jerry Felix.

"There is a time and place to use the right tool and a PDR is the right tool at the right time for some applications," he added.

The PDR before the county is a voluntary program, not just for landowners but also for townships. If a township doesn't participate, then growers there can't take part in the county program either.

"The other thing that this program is intended to do, and that we're in favor of, is it ties the program into a regional planning concept. The county has looked at our (Project) Blueprint plan to develop the areas and the criteria to assist in that to determine where these things ought to occur," said Felix.

"You can't buy a 20-acre farm in the middle of an urban area. That's not going to work from an economic standpoint," he said. "You need chunks of property, maybe 500 acres or more, in chunks."

If the PDR goes before the full commission next week and is approved, commissioners will create a seven-member County Agriculture Preservation Board, which would be made up of one county commissioner, three people with ag interests, a representative of township governments, a Realtor or a developer, and a land conservationist.

The board would be responsible for setting the PDR selection criteria and the purchase price for development rights. But county commissioners would retain the right to approve or deny any purchase agreement.

A PDR program attempts to pay landowners the difference between the value a property has as a development and as agricultural land. Often, growers receive higher offers from developers than they do from fellow farmers.

County commissioners are to meet this Tuesday, the 19th, to discuss the program and outline their options.

"It's not over," said Heacock after the committee's vote. "I mean it's five people on a board of 19 who voted against this, and they may be the only five who oppose this. It's hard to know at this point."

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