PDR Pact Could Ease Sprawl

October 17, 2003
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The Kent County Board of Commissioners will define its new Purchase of Development Rights ordinance this week with a property qualification point system. The guidelines recommended by the county’s Agricultural Preservation Board and Legislative and Human Resources Committee provide balance for what was a controversial issue, a tough job considering the numerous special interests at work.

The county board may approve the criteria created to limit preservation to areas of large blocks of agricultural land, though the Business Journal suggests this particular limitation should be reconsidered as the emotion on both sides of the issue cool. Indeed, the county has left open the opportunity to reconsider or modify the criteria each year, a decision as farsighted as the PDR itself.

Fifth District Commissioner Jack Horton noted in the Business Journal report, “We have to be objective or we’ll lose credibility.” To that end, the recommendations also include disqualification of a property if the township governing body does not approve. One can hope that each independent unit of government in Kent County is using educated reasoning in making those decisions, and not bowing to political pressures. The county board can certainly assist to that end.

While metro areas throughout the state of Michigan are receiving greater attention via Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s public hearings regarding sprawl issues, West Michigan is now among the top five worst sprawled areas in the country. State Sen. Ken Sikkema, R-Wyoming, expects the first package of new legislation to be presented this fall, including legislation to give greater consideration to agricultural areas and more compatible land use for subdivisions.

That the greater Grand Rapids business community is fast becoming more involved in this issue is evident, too, in the formation of the first West Michigan chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, and sponsorship of the Michigan Land Use Institute. The genesis of these recent developments certainly had its start in the area’s largest industries: Steelcase, Haworth and Herman Miller. More than 55 area businesses are leading efforts to form the USGBC chapter, building on the fact that 11.5 percent of nation’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings are in West Michigan. The work of the West Michigan Strategic Alliance in regard to sprawl issues also has helped to educate this community.

County commissioners are providing a model ordinance in Michigan for the PDR efforts that are certain to become part of community headlines across the state. They would do well to take note of the manner in which the state is addressing the issue. It isn’t just the right thing to do; it is imperative when given the facts of sprawl and the unwanted ranking given West Michigan.           

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