Countys PDR Gets OK

May 5, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDSKentCounty commissioners set the wheels in motion recently to preserve 543 acres of farmland through the Purchase of Development Rights ordinance they established nearly four years ago.

But at the same time, Commissioner Dean Agee suggested the Legislative Committee take another look at the ordinance that the board passed in November of 2002. Since then, the county has closed on only two farms, though it is close to closing on another one.

Those few transactions sparked Commissioner David Morren to say that he has become disenchanted with the process and that he felt the advocacy for the program isn't as strong as it was when the ordinance was approved.

Morren, who supported the ordinance while commission chairman, joined Commissioner Marvin Hiddema as the two board members who voted against continuing the program.

Still, commissioners approved a grant application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for $980,875 so the farmland preservation effort can go forward. The grant would account for half of the $1.96 million needed to buy the development rights from the owners of seven farms in five townships that make up the 534 acres. The grant deadline is May 11.

The other half of the purchase price is coming from three local foundations, the state's Agricultural Preservation Fund, three of the landowners, and two of the townships.

Commissioners also authorized the purchase options that were proposed.

The prices for the farms' development rights range from a high of $259,000 to a low of $85,500. The farms range in size from 152 acres to 36 acres. Buying the rights to all 534 acres averages out to $3,613 per acre, with a high of $5,198 per acre and a low of $2,400.

Two of the farms are in SpartaTownship, two are in VergennesTownship, and one each is in Ada, Alpine and Grattan townships.

The Kent County Agricultural Preservation Board, which oversees the PDR program, reported that it received 34 applications for more than 3,100 acres from a dozen townships during the most recent application cycle; 23 of those applicants met the federal and state guidelines for matching preservation funds.

The state's Agricultural Preservation Fund ($252,097), the Wege Foundation ($255,475), the Steelcase Foundation ($202,709), Grand Rapids Community Foundation ($23,492) three of the landowners ($144,476), GrattanTownship ($40,000) and AdaTownship ($23,813) are providing the local dollars needed for the purchases.

"I would like to encourage the foundations and the townships to continue funding it," said Commissioner Tom Postmus. "We're making progress, but its slow progress."

When commissioners approved the ordinance, they did so without committing any tax revenue to it. The county, though, funds the administration of the program to the tune of about $30,000 a year.

The 2006 equalization report showed that the State Equalized Value of farmland in the county fell by 2.6 percent the past year to $298.4 million. Alpine, Sparta, Bowne, Byron and Grattan townships had the highest agricultural SEVs, according to the report. Those five accounted for 45 percent of the total SEV.

Properties cannot be developed commercially when landowners sell their developmental rights to the county. A report on the overall progress of the PRD program is due in June.    

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