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How do you save farmland?

How do you save farmland?
How do you save farmland?
Scott Everett, regional director for the American Farmland Trust, listens to concerns following a program about land preservation Thursday night. (Photo by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor)

About 200 people got a brief lesson on PDRs, TDRs and other ways to help preserve farmland during a program sponsored by the recently formed Farm and Forest Preservation Alliance (FFPA).
Tanya Tuell, one of the group’s founders, invited Scott Everett, regional director for the American Farmland Trust, to give two overviews last week ‘ first on Thursday night at St. Mary’s School in Lanesville, then again Friday morning at the Leora Brown School in Corydon ‘ about what’s being done in other states to preserve undeveloped land.
‘I’m not here to tell you what to do, but I do have some experience in Michigan,’ said Everett, who has led nine Ultimate Farmland Preservation Tours ‘ a five-day bus trip to Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania ‘ since 1998. He also worked 11 years with the Michigan Farm Bureau and lives on a farm with his 90-year-old grandfather.
Michigan is only slightly ahead of Indiana in preserving farmland.
‘In the Midwest, we’re going to be developing with this type of growth that these Eastern states have,’ he said, adding that we’re already experiencing ‘land fragmentation.’ Large acreage has been divided into five- to 10-acre parcels, which often aren’t readily noticeable.
‘You have that big-time here in Harrison County,’ Everett said.
Everett said he’s not discouraging development, but, rather, planning for it.
‘It’s a balance,’ he said, and county zoning regulations only provide a ‘temporary’ solution.
Out East, prime farmland has been preserved by two dominant methods: PDRs (Purchase of Development Rights) and TDRs (Transfer of Development Rights).
Typically, the TDR system establishes a preservation area as well as a development area, allowing landowners to sell their development rights to others who can then build at higher densities than allowed by current zoning guidelines.
And developers can put in even more housing units by agreeing to include ‘affordable’ residences.
In 2000, all but one of Maryland’s 23 counties had an agriculture land preservation program, relying heavily on TDRs.
Participation in TDR programs, which are more flexible than PDR programs, is voluntary, Everett said.
A few years ago, 15 states were using Purchase of Development Right programs, which put deed restrictions on land, to help preserve farmland. Through PDR programs, which also are voluntary, a landowner only sells their right to develop the property.
Hartford County, Md., which includes Baltimore, uses agricultural districts, a three-way contract between the state, local government and landowners. It gives a 50-percent property tax break to participants.
‘It’s about a little bit every year,’ Everett said, because no program is going to start with ‘bijillions’ of dollars.
He encouraged Harrison Countians to develop a program, probably a TDR. ‘Don’t worry about funding yet,’ he said.
Joe Tutterow, director of the Indiana Land Resources Council, attended both programs.
‘It’s really important to engage as many people as possible,’ he said. ‘We need to think about how we’re going to grow, and where we’re going to grow.’
Tuell said she was ‘absolutely thrilled’ with the attendance at last week’s programs. Since then, several people have called to say they want to get involved with the FFPA.
Besides Harrison Countians, persons from Floyd, Clark, Washington and Perry counties were in the audience.
‘We’ll continue with public education and will hold another public meeting at a later date,’ Tuell said.
While public input is desired and encouraged, Tuell said the county commissioners and council, along with planning and zoning officials, will ‘lead the way’ for what Harrison County does.
The FFPA was scheduled to meet again this morning, at 6:30, as they have been doing about every other week for the past few months.
For more information about the Farm and Forest Preservation Alliance, call 738-8927 or 969-2615 or e-mail [email protected]