PDR Provokes Strong Opposition

November 22, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — At least five county commissioners, area Realtors and builders, and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce are hoping that a Purchase of Development Rights proposal goes down to defeat when Kent County commissioners vote on it tomorrow.

The chamber wants to see it topple because no one has explained what effect a PDR will have on property values. The business group also feels the PDR should contain an escape clause — which it doesn’t — and if a tax increase is needed to fund it, the chamber wants an assurance that the request would go before voters.

But most of all, the chamber wants to know how the program would be funded.

“We would like to see a detailed plan on how the program would be paid for,” said Rusty Merchant, GRACC vice president of government affairs.

The county hasn’t allocated any money to the program so far, and if commissioners make it an ordinance at tomorrow’s meeting, Kent isn’t obligated to provide funding. Instead, the county, at this point, plans to use federal, nonprofit and private sources to buy any rights.

“This ordinance does not involve county money,” said Steven Heacock, commission chairman.

Julie Rietberg, executive vice president of the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors, felt that if the proposal becomes an ordinance, housing options would be limited and the cost of homes would take low- and middle-income wage earners out of the home-buying market.

But County Commissioner Harold Mast said the PDR doesn’t impact affordable housing because developers won’t build homes for low-income residents on farmland.

“This is a vision for the future,” he said

Rietberg also said the proposal didn’t allow for options or changes to a master plan or any rezoning efforts, which would raise housing costs for future generations. She said it sidesteps the density issue, which is necessary for a well-planned community, and that it would raise the cost to build infrastructure in new developments, as water and sewer service would have to jump over preservation easements.

Rietberg felt that a PDR would result in higher property taxes, that it wouldn’t make farming more profitable, and that the proposed plan is an unfunded mandate because the county hasn’t locked in any funding sources yet to purchase the development rights.

“It is an abuse of power to enact an ordinance without having funding for it,” she said. “We don’t believe there has been a sufficient amount of study for this program.”

Judy Barnes, CEO and executive vice president of the Home and Building Association of Greater Grand Rapids, was just as direct, asking commissioners why they were taking up such a key issue during a lame-duck session. She added that if housing density isn’t made part of the plan, the ordinance would add to the county’s sprawl problem.

County Commissioner Jack Horton, however, saw the proposal differently.

“I like all of those recommendations,” he said of the six suggestions that came from an urban sprawl committee, which he served on. “But this one is likely to have the greatest impact on sprawl.”

Barnes also defended area builders, saying they aren’t the villains that some have made them out to be. She said they have been involved with PDR work since 1988 and have taken preservation tours. Barnes said her group does have a special interest in this issue, it’s just not the one that some have accused them of.

“Yes, we are a special interest group,” she said. “But our interest is putting people into homes.”

Commissioners Ken Kuipers, Michael Sak, Marvin Hiddema, Paul Mayhue and Ted Vonk rejected the proposal at the committee level, a move that removed the PDR from the commission’s agenda.

Sak said there wasn’t a guarantee that development-rights money invested in the program would be reinvested in the land, and that he would rather have the county use that money to buy parkland. Hiddema said he had a problem with giving someone money because of where they are located, and that once a contract is signed, the land can never be developed.

“There are no waivers built into this, no way to change it,” he said.

To get the proposal before the commission on Tuesday, a commissioner has to request that it be placed on the agenda. Likely candidates to do that are Heacock, Mast, Horton, Tom Postmus or Elaine Buege. Postmus could do it because he chaired the urban sprawl group and urged committee members not to reject the proposal before they voted. Buege might raise the issue because she chaired the committee that rejected it, but voted for the PDR.

“We are not saying ‘no’ to development,” said Buege at the committee meeting. “It should only be prime farm land that should be reserved.”       

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