Its Round Two For PDR Program

August 16, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County is setting the stage for its second go-around with farmland preservation. Next week commissioners are expected to designate Sept. 1-Nov. 30 as the period that farmers and growers can apply to have their development rights bought by the county.

The county’s Legislative and Human Resources Committee sanctioned that timeframe for accepting applications last week, and the panel also adjusted the selection criteria slightly, as suggested by the Kent County Agricultural Preservation Board.

The program’s focus will still remain on areas with large blocks of farmland, type of soil, parcel size, proximity to water and sewer, and nearby development activity as it did this past year. But revisions to the scoring process could include adding the amount of road frontage a property has and the number of consecutive years a landowner has applied to the county’s Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program.

Properties alongside public roads will be given a higher priority in the scoring system, should commissioners approve the new criteria. The thought behind this change is that farms and groves on a public roadway maintain scenic views, reduce development and traffic, and protect the agricultural integrity of the area.

A landowner can earn four points for fronting a quarter-mile stretch and as many as 10 points if a parcel fronts at least three-quarters of a mile of road.

Applicants can also earn points for filing with the program in consecutive years. Last fall, 44 landowners applied, but the preservation board only selected five. If those that weren’t selected apply again this year, they will earn a point for applying in two consecutive years.

Once the PDR program becomes five years old, a landowner can earn five points for applying in each of those years.

The preservation board also dropped one criterion: development activity within a township. Kendra Wills, a preservation board staff member from the MSU Extension office, said the standard wasn’t accurate because it was based on the number of building permits a township issued.

Wills told the committee that two other criteria — the amount of land in agricultural use in an area and a parcel’s location to other protected property — would be better measurements for the scoring process.

“All we were trying to do is eliminate criteria that weren’t working,” said Jack Horton, county commissioner and chairman of the preservation board.

In all, the board offered 14 selection criteria worth a maximum of 108 points. The factors place an emphasis on preserving the county’s most productive agricultural land.

“The focus isn’t on greenspace, it’s on preserving farmland,” said Horton. “I think we’d have a hard time with a program that didn’t consider the condition of the soil.”

Properties selected in the second round will be submitted next spring to the USDA Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program for matching funds, money the county will use to buy development rights from the chosen landowners. The Steelcase and Frey foundations have agreed to provide much of the local funding for the program.

Earlier this month the county announced it would buy the development rights from three farms totaling 326 acres in three townships for $1.25 million. Half of that amount will come from the federal program. Once those transactions are completed, those properties can’t be developed for commercial purposes.

The USDA program rejected two other applications from the county.

Wills told the Business Journal that the MSU Extension office is offering a forum on Aug. 30 for those interested in applying to the PDR program. Call Wills at (616) 336-2028 for more information.

County commissioners passed the PDR ordinance in November 2002 with a goal of preserving 25,000 acres of prime farmland by 2013. The board has not committed any tax dollars to the program.    

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