Food Service & Agriculture, Government, and Real Estate

Kent eyes farmland PDR

December 19, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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Kent County commissioners will decide Jan. 6 whether to add another 64 acres to the 3,000 acres of farmland already protected from future development.

The acreage, at 13637 Five Mile Road, Belding, in Grattan Township, is owned by Denny and Dawn Hall, who are willing to sell the development rights in perpetuity to the county for $108,443. The entire amount would come from the Wege Foundation.

It would be the second farmland preservation deal expected to close in 2015. The other is 110 acres belonging to Gerald and Barb Poulias at 10000 Seven Mile Road, Rockford.

Both the Poulias and Hall farms were recommended for Kent County’s Purchase of Development Rights program early in 2014 by the Agricultural Preservation Board. The county commission approved an application to the USDA Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program for grants to buy the development rights, but the USDA later said it could only fund the Poulias farm.

Total cost of purchasing the Poulias development rights is $180,494, with the USDA providing $81,223 and the rest coming from grants and other sources.

Stacy Byers, coordinator of the preservation board, said the Wege Foundation has been the “most robust” in contributing to the farmland preservation program, but other area foundations also have contributed, including the Grand Rapids Community, Frey, Dyer-Ives and Steelcase foundations.

Peter Wege was a major financial supporter of ecological preservation projects in the U.S. and Latin America. Byers said he was “really fond of the Parnell corridor over in Grattan Township, so he really wanted to see a lot of that preserved” from development.

The Parnell Corridor is an area including farms, lakes and wetlands that extends north to south through Grattan and Vergennes townships, with the community of Parnell.

Byers said the PDR process results in an easement on the property that goes with the deed “in perpetuity,” restricting commercial and residential development on the land. She said the landowner can continue to farm the land and improve it for farming, including construction of new farm buildings, but homes cannot be built on it and it cannot be subdivided for residential or commercial developments.

Byers said most farmers who sell their development rights invest the money for farming purposes, although they can use it for any purpose whatsoever.

Denny Hall, 44, told the Business Journal he and his wife bought their farmland in 2010. He said the farmland preservation program presented an opportunity to get into farming, with the sale of development rights helping to finance their purchase. They now raise corn, soybeans, wheat and hay on the land, and also breed cattle.

Hall also has an excavating business at the farm, not related to his farming. He and his wife actually have a total of 70 acres at 13637 Five Mile Road, but withheld six acres of it from the county’s farmland preservation program.

He noted they are also in the process of having their farm verified under the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program, a voluntary program that helps farms of all sizes and all commodities voluntarily prevent or minimize agricultural pollution risks.

Byers, who lives in the Lansing area and also is employed as board coordinator for the Ingham County Agricultural Preservation Board, said West Michigan is seen as an “agricultural powerhouse” with an ag industry worth more than $231 million a year.

The agricultural preservation program has proved divisive in the past among members of the Kent County Board of Commissioners, some of whom will not support any use of public funds for buying development rights.

At the county’s Finance and Physical Resources Committee meeting last week that approved sending the Hall farm PDR deal to the full commission in January, outgoing District 9 Commissioner Nate Vriesman of Byron Center voted against it.

Vriesman stated he has mentioned in prior years he does not think the county should be involved in buying farmland development rights to preserve farmland, even if the funds don’t come from county coffers.

“We’re still on the hook to administer the program and police it to make sure they’re keeping up their end of the bargain,” he said.

Vriesman’s term as a commissioner ends this month.

Currently, no funding for PDR purchases comes from Kent County, although the county did kick in some funding in the past. The county enacted the PDR program in 2002 and as of the end of 2013, $5.5 million had been spent by the county to buy development rights, with $2 million coming from the federal government, $1.9 million from private sources — mainly foundation grants — and $569,000 from the county.

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