County OKs PDR Change

February 27, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County commissioners ratified the selection criteria last week for the county's Purchase of Development Rights program, now in its fourth year of trying to preserve farmland, ranches and orchards in the county.

Although the selection process will continue to focus on preserving areas with large blocks of agricultural land as it has in past years, a revision approved for the next round of applications would subtract points for each reserved future building site a property has beyond the one that is allowed by the United States Department of Agriculture in its funding program.

"I think it's encouraging to say that very little has changed," said Jack Horton, county commissioners, of the program's criteria.

Horton added that the USDA frowns on split parcels and often rejects applicants for preservation funding because of that.

"Too many small splits make it difficult," he said. "If we don't discourage this we could pay for an appraisal that the federal government would reject."

Commissioner Gary Rolls said the USDA allows a future building site to be up to two acres in size and an application can have one in addition to the parcel a landowner's home sits on.

Soil type, parcel size, proximity to sewer and water, and proximity to other public or preserved land remain as major criteria in the process. A varying number of points are assigned to each and a grand point total is figured for each application.

A parcel can't be developed commercially once a farmer, rancher or grower agrees to preserve that land.

"We have one farm that has been totally preserved and are closing on two others," said Kendra Wills, of the MSU Extension Office, who consults with the county on the PDR program.

Wills said there was about $840,000 in available preservation grant money for this year and that the county's purchasing department would be asking for bids from appraisers who are interested in evaluating parcels for the PDR program.

"There are professional appraisers that determine the value of the properties," she said.

Applications can be made to the county from March 1 through April 30.

The Kent County Agricultural Preservation Board will submit the qualifying applications to the Michigan Agricultural Preservation Board in October and to the USDA NRCS Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program next year for funding.

Not all commissioners, though, favor the program. CountyCommissioner and former Board Chairman David Morren said he has a philosophical problem with the PDR effort. Morren explained that while budget cuts were being made in other more important programs, the preservation effort continues. And Commissioner Marvin Hiddema said he was skeptical of the program. Both voted against the new selection standard and the application cycle.

No county tax dollars have been used to buy preservation rights. So far, local money needed to match preservation grants has largely come from area foundations such as the Steelcase and Frey foundations.   

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