Proposed PDR purchase gets smaller

March 6, 2010
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When Kent County commissioners agreed last month to buy the options to purchase the development rights of six farms, they weren’t certain how many of the landowners would agree to sell for an average price of $1,786 per acre. Now they know.

Kendra Wills, of the MSU/Kent Extension Service and a consultant to the county for its Purchase of Development Rights program, said five of the six landowners have signed the option documents. The only holdout was a 15-acre site in Lowell Township — the smallest piece of the latest preservation puzzle that also carried the highest per-acre price at $3,000.

So instead of buying the rights for 631.5 acres for $1.13 million, the county is looking at purchasing the rights for 616.5 acres for $1.08 million, which works out to be an average per-acre price of $1,756. That deal, though, may get smaller.

For the county to be able to buy the development rights from the five farms, the U.S. Department of Agriculture must approve Kent’s grant application. The county applied for a grant worth $519,000 last month, which can be applied to the purchase price. Local funding sources, including $275,000 from the county, would account for the remainder of the purchase price. The average per-acre price of this transaction is roughly a third of previous county purchases.

But Wills, who filed the grant application on behalf of the county, said the USDA may approve a lesser amount because money is tight at the agency. Because of that situation, she said the county may only be able to buy the rights from two or three of the farms. Wills said she would know the fate of the county’s application by early April.

In the meantime, county commissioners will decide this week whether to accept a $300,000 grant from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation for the PDR program. GRCF, which has supported the program in the past, offered the grant because commissioners agreed to invest taxpayer dollars in it late last year and for the first time since they conceived the ordinance in November 2002.

“I’m really grateful they’re doing this and giving us this opportunity,” said Commissioner Jim Talen.

There is a catch, though. The GRCF grant will be distributed over three years at $100,000 this year, next year and in 2012. But to collect the grant dollars for the next two years, the county has to put at least $350,000 into the program for each of those years. The grant agreement, however, doesn’t legally bind the county to fund the program.

The county’s Finance Committee accepted the grant last week and recommended that the commission do the same this week. “We’ll take it in good faith,” said Commissioner Harold Voorhees, “and we’ll move forward.’’

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