County PDR program is cleared

February 13, 2012
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For the first time in the program’s nearly 10-year existence, the accountability of the county’s Purchase of Development Rights program was brought up for discussion last week.

As the county’s Finance Committee was deliberating whether to buy the development rights from four farms, Commissioner Jim Saalfeld noted that two of the sellers were limited liability corporations and asked who the individuals behind the LLCs were.

When he was told those names weren’t known, Saalfeld then asked how the county knew that the purchase dollars wouldn’t go to someone who was connected to the county, which would create a conflict of interest. County corporate counsel Daniel Ophoff said Kent has a policy that prevents something like that from happening and the commission relies on the county’s Agricultural Preservation Board, which nominates farms for the program, to disclose all potential conflicts.

That happened last month when the resolution the committee dealt with last week was pulled from a January agenda because a member of the preservation board leases one of the farms on the PDR list for crop production. Ophoff looked into the matter and said there wasn’t a conflict of interest to report, so the resolution was put on last week’s committee agenda. Ophoff also indicated that members of future LLCs that apply for the program will be identified.

The four farms being considered for the program are in Grattan, Courtland and Sparta townships and have a total of 300 acres. The county can buy the development rights of all the acreage for $468,000 or $1,560 per acre. The per-farm prices range from $56,000 to $220,000, and the per-acre costs range from $1,120 to $1,913. A $210,000 grant from the USDA Farmland Protection Program and $257,000 from the ag preservation board’s special project fund are expected to cover the purchase price.

The Finance Committee recommended that the commission approve the agreements via the county’s PDR ordinance, which commissioners ratified in November 2002, and board members will make that decision next week.

Commissioners last agreed to buy development rights in June when they purchased the rights to 73.15 acres of a Sparta Township farm, the only such transaction last year. In 2010, the county closed with five property owners on 616.5 acres. Since its inception, the program has set aside 1,544 farmland acres from commercial development.

In another land matter, commissioners are likely next week to accept a $37,500 grant from the state that will go to a collaborative parks study the county is leading. The money comes from the Economic Vitality Incentive Program that Gov. Rick Snyder started a year ago to replace revenue sharing.

So far, $120,740 has been raised for the study that is looking at how most of the park systems in the county can share services. Those dollars have come from the Grand Rapids Community, Dyer-Ives and Frey foundations; the cities of Grand Rapids and Wyoming; Kent County; and now the state of Michigan. Laycock Consulting is conducting the study. The firm’s findings are expected to be delivered to the county-appointed committee overseeing the effort next month.

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