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Guest Column: Where have all the farms gone? It’s time for a rural plan

Guest Column: Where have all the farms gone? It’s time for a rural plan

The County Commission lacks leadership to protect the rural quality of Boone County.  The county’s comprehensive plan is outdated. The current zoning ordinance has classified 60 percent of Boone County as A2, a large part of which has already been developed. This classification allows landowners to subdivide their land into two-and-a-half-acre plats, which are estate-type lots, neither urban nor rural. And in the process, our rural heritage is being destroyed.

Many people were attracted to Boone County and the cities within it because of the rural quality and the opportunity to be in or close to nature. Houses with a view to a lake, a forest or wildlife area are a premium to homeowners. Yet, the perpetual development of farmlands and other undeveloped lands into these large estates is destroying the very quality of life these early homeowners thought they had. As one travels throughout the county and sees the development, it is almost too late to save the rural areas.

The county needs an agricultural preservation plan. Rather than giving lip service to the smart growth constituents and blindly following the decades-old zoning ordinance, the county could easily provide incentives to developers and landowners to cluster development into rural villages leaving 60 percent to 80 percent of the land in its natural state.

The current zoning ordinance grants the ability to develop large tracts of farmland into residential estate plats. And landowners expect to achieve the value of their land. But two-and-a-half-acre estate plats are too large to be economically served with urban-type services such as public sewers and water, and the plats are too small to be further subdivided into urban-sized lots. The bureaucracy wring their hands, feeling apologetic and noting their impotence to improve the situation.  Yet, leadership can find a way to solve this problem. It requires focus and determination to save our rural areas.

The current zoning classification of planned districts could and should be amended to retain some of our farms before the entire county is developed into residential estates. Rural landowners should be encouraged to cluster development onto 20 to 30 percent of the land targeted for development, allowing the developer to obtain a larger number of smaller lots. The incentive of providing a higher urban density in the developed portion of the land would provide a greater return for the developer while preserving a sense of openness. And as part of the planned urban development, the landowner or developer would donate to a public agency or to a non-profit land trust the development rights on the undeveloped portion of the land for a possible tax credit.  Importantly, houses could be situated in such a manner as to preserve the rural view. In many cases, the developed portion could be sufficiently removed from the roadway to hide it in order to preserve the rural landscape.  Far from taking from the landowner, this would improve his return on investment while protecting the rural quality of the county.

Using the current classification of planned development with appropriate amendments on a larger scale, the county could create rural villages that would support a walkable elementary school and neighborhood commerce while protecting local farms within reach of an urban market. Positioning three or four of these clusters adjacent to one another would leave a substantial area of land for farmland or a natural wooded state. And wouldn’t that be beautiful?

Sid Sullivan is a candidate for Boone County Southern District commissioner. He can be reached at [email protected] or 234-2374

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