Real Estate In On Land Use Planning

March 15, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The real estate industry is going to have a unique opportunity to play a huge role in protecting land throughout Kent County.

Realtors, developers and builders are expected to be invited to participate in an upcoming charrette intended to identify greenspaces that should be preserved.

The design meeting, which also will include local public officials and preservationists, will be hosted by the Grand Valley Metro Council as part of an agreement the regional planning agency entered into with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan.

“This is a very hot-potato issue now,” said Kent County Commission Chairman David Morren of land preservation.

“I think it’s foolish not to. I think they should be invited to the table,” he added.

Metro Council Planning Director Andy Bowman agreed that industry members should take part, as did Land Conservancy WM Executive Director Julie Stoneman.

“In lots of cases, developers, especially, have a really good and solid sense of those places out there that they’d like to see protected, those natural features that are actually amenities to potential development,” said Stoneman.

“We think that developers are going to have a huge role in protection efforts. You can’t buy all the land that should be protected because of its importance, environmentally and ecologically. So there are development designs that you can do to a particular parcel to protect the best features of a parcel,” she added.

Stoneman said a good way to save a natural feature is to work with developers in the design of a project. A natural feature can include agricultural land, working landscapes, forests, river corridors, wetlands and fields that might be home to rare species.

Residential real estate firms and homebuilders provided the strongest opposition to the Purchase of Development Rights ordinance Kent County adopted in late 2002. The PDR program allows farmers to sell the developmental rights of their properties to the county, while they continue to farm the land. If the county owns those rights, properties can’t be developed for commercial purposes. So far, no landowner has sold that right.

The charrette is just one of three tasks that the Metro Council will perform for the local conservancy. The agency will develop a tool kit to allow local units of government to create a natural features inventory within their political boundaries. Then the council will create an Internet-based application for the inventory through its Regional Geographic Information System, or REGIS.

The Land Conservancy is paying the Metro Council $23,000 for its work, with $10,000 of that amount going to REGIS for mapping the inventory.

“We’re trying to protect some of the area’s best and most important open spaces. We need to know where they are and so we hope this tool kit will provide some motivation and incentive for local units to undertake a natural features inventory,” said Stoneman.

The People and Land program, a statewide project of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is paying for the work through a grant it gave the Land Conservancy. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation also has made a contribution to the effort.

Beside the charrette that will be held in Grand Rapids, others will take place in Holland and Muskegon. The Land Conservancy also is sponsoring the Lakeshore meetings, but the West Michigan Strategic Alliance is hosting those.

A date hasn’t been set, yet, for the charrette in Grand Rapids. But the contract calls for the Metro Council to have its work finished by the end of August.    

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