Cass commissioners delay decision on farmland ordinance

Published 7:48 am Friday, December 2, 2005

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS - Cass County commissioners reviewed a proposed farmland and open space preservation ordinance Thursday with Bernie Williamson of the Planning Commission before deciding to continue the discussion March 18, 2006, at their retreat.
Williamson expressed that the Planning Commission hoped to have county support sooner, to which Vice Chairman Ron Francis, R-Cassopolis, commented, “We're talking about creating something in perpetuity. If we can't wait 90 days, I have a real problem with that. I have any number of questions on this issue.”
Commissioner Alan Northrop, R-Marcellus, called it a potential retirement program for farmers and an “excellent idea.”
The ordinance presented for the commission's consideration Dec. 1 models itself after similar measures passed in Berrien and Van Buren counties. “We took theirs, reviewed it and obviously made some changes to it,” said Williamson, the former county emergency management coordinator and a past Jefferson Township supervisor.
The are five ways to preserve farmland and open space in Michigan: farmland development rights agreements, purchase of development rights (PDR), agricultural preservation funds, local open space easements and designated open space easements.
PDR is a permanent restriction on land between the state and a landowner, voluntarily entered into by a landowner, preserving their land for agriculture in exchange for a cash payment for those rights.
An agricultural preservation fund is established to assist local units of government in implementing a local PDR program.
Farmers will not be prevented from receiving funding for their property. By the same token, the community won't suffer from that property being sold out of financial necessity for development.”
Williamson gave the example of a Wayne Township case which came before the Planning Commission.
A farmer with about 50 acres of property experienced medical problems and wanted to sell off 10 acres. A township ordinance, however, required at least 40-acre splits.
State funding first became available in October.
The next enrollment period will be next fall.
Commissioner Terri Kitchen, R-Silver Creek Township, said, “What concerns me about it is a farmer, a township and the county all agreeing to do anything together. One thing that bothers me about this, in 50 years or 100 years, and people want to do some changes, it's all locked up.”
Commissioner Minnie Warren, D-Pokagon Township, fears creation of dormant “wasteland.”
Williamson said that should not be a problem because the ground could be logged, hunted, sold to another farmer or used as parkland - just not for housing development.
Another aspect of the proposed ordinance is that the land-use planning team can accept tax money for purchase of property.
Chairman Robert Wagel, R-Wayne Township, noted “there's a lot of interest from this board in this particular ordinance” in suggesting it be given ample debate at the commission's March 18 workshop.
Commissioner Carl Higley Sr., R-Edwardsburg, made the motion.
Commissioner Jack Teter, R-Edwardsburg, was absent.