County approves option to buy farmland rights
Commissioner raises uncertainty over program funding.
The Kent County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution to preserve 70 acres of farmland in Grattan Township.
The county’s Agricultural Preservation Board recommended an option for the purchase of development rights (PDR) for the farmland, owned by Scott Sieracki and located at 7800 Nugent Ave. NE, for approximately $210,000.
According to the resolution, the cost is based on the property’s compliance with federal and county criteria and the availability of matching funds.
A PDR is a voluntary program where landowners are compensated for accepting a permanent deed restriction on their land that prevents future nonagricultural development.
Commissioner Tom Antor said, “I’m not advocating spending a ton of money trying to protect all the farms in Kent County, but we do need a comprehensive plan that addresses our prime farmland.”
One of Antor’s concerns was separating farmland from rural homes that could be contaminated by runoff from spraying pesticides.
He also advocated looking at urban growth areas as targets for economic growth while trying to minimize development on existing farmland, which he viewed as an economic resource in and of itself.
“Prime ag continues to be an economic engine for this county, and it’s one of the greatest resources we have.”
According to information on its website, Kent County is the fifth most agriculturally productive county in the state of Michigan, with a market value of over $149 million each year.
Commissioner Diane Jones, while supporting the resolution, voiced concern over the lack of federal funding for the program, as well as uncertainty over foundational grants, which also have been a source of funding for PDR agreements in the past.
“I personally find that this particular program should continue to exist for our county,” she said. “If someone is a landowner and they want to preserve it, they should have that option to do that. … I think the piece that has to continue to be discussed is how it gets funded.”
Per the resolution, the county will submit a grant application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Easement Program, for a maximum of 50 percent of the cost of development rights.
According to the Business Journal, in 2015 the board approved a PDR agreement to purchase 70 acres of land owned by Denny and Dawn Hall, also located in Grattan Township. The purchase was facilitated with a $108,443 grant from the Wege Foundation.
Jones, at the most recent meeting, warned the county needs to be mindful of how the PDR program is financed. According to the most recent resolution, the Agricultural Preservation Board has funds to pay the cost of appraisals and option fees.
The resolution passed with an 18-1 vote. Commissioner Matt Kallman was the only one to vote no.
“I think agriculture in Kent County is great,” Kallman said. “My concern with PDR is it locks these properties up permanently. One hundred years ago, if people had locked up a bunch of farmland in Kentwood, we would see a different pattern of development that would see people commuting even longer distances to Grand Rapids, so I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Kallman also voted against the 2015 PDR agreement, telling the Business Journal, “I don’t think it tends to work out for the government at any level to get involved in trying to restructure the market for some social good or another purported objective. That doesn’t tend to be as effective as the free market.”
The county’s PDR ordinance was adopted in 2002, and in April of last year, the board approved the selection criteria for the purchase of development rights by the county, as well as authorizing the Agricultural Preservation Board to accept applicants from landowners wishing to participate in the program.