Geauga County [Ohio] is looking to the future, before its farmlands are
a thing of the past. The county
committed $10,000, which was matched by a state grant, for the Geauga County
planning commission to develop a comprehensive farmland preservation plan.
It will dovetail with the county's comprehensive land-use plan, according
to Geauga County Commissioner William Repke.
The big concern is the loss of the large traditional farms in the county,
Mr. Repke said. By saving
farms, taxpayers actually pay fewer taxes, because there are fewer roads
and services to maintain, he said. "People don't understand the cost savings,
but it is worth keeping land undeveloped."
Geauga Planning Director David Dietrich said a state farmland preservation
bill is being considered. If approved, state money might be available to
counties, with plans in place, for the specific purpose of protecting farmland.
It could be used to purchase development rights on farms.
The threat to the existence of farms, even in rural Geauga County, is real,
according to Thomas Bier, director of the Housing Policy Research Program
of Cleveland State University.
Development is gobbling up farmland in Geauga County, as it is in Medina,
Lake, Summit and Portage counties, he told members of the Bainbridge zoning
commission last week. "Five-acre lots is not going to preserve farmland,"
Dr. Bier said. "It has to be zoned for farms."
Right now, there are no "tools" available to counties and townships to save
farmland and open space, he said. "Geauga County isn't even permitted to
raise funds to buy farmlands."
Kevin O'Reilly, who farms 500 acres with his wife, AmySue, in Parkman, is
a spokesman for the Geauga County Farmland Preservation Committee that meets
at the Patterson Center in Burton. The grassroots group is investigating
options for retaining farmland in the county.
Committee member Marlene Walkush, of Bainbridge, said one of the group's
goals is to assist farmers interested in the purchase of development rights.
Such programs help secure land for future farming, she said.
When development rights are purchased on a farm, the land is kept for farming
into the future. Some options
include conservation development and cluster zoning, according to Mr. O'Reilly.
Most farms include open land and woods, he said. "So why not build the homes
in the woods and use he open land for farming?"
Mr. O'Reilly said the group also is attempting to create awareness among
non-farmers about the pressures on the farms.
"I don't see this committee as an anti-growth thing," he said. "I've talked
of it as responsible growth.
"If we fill up every two-acre parcel, it will look like Cuyahoga County."
He said the result is a loss of farms, high taxes, traffic and overcrowded
schools. Mr. O'Reilly said
it is fortunate that the County Commissioners have taken on the cause. "They
have to work with developers, and they recognize there are areas that should
be developed and where farms should be preserved," he said.