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Planning and Economic Development

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eMacomb - Featured Article, March 2008

A first for Macomb: Farmland Permanently Preserved!

Good news for farmers and lovers of fresh produce and open space - the first “purchase of development rights” agreement was signed in Richmond Township!

This achievement, a result of the hard work of the Macomb Agricultural PDR Committee (MAPDRC), was made possible through grants awarded by the State of Michigan’s Department of Agriculture, The Carls Foundation and the Macomb Farm Bureau.

MAPDRC was formed to address the loss of farmland in the county.  According to the 2002 U.S. Agricultural Census, there are more than 500 operating farms covering nearly 68,000 acres in Macomb County.  Revenue from locally grown products added $40 million to Macomb’s economy.

Some say that Macomb County’s population surge over recent years came at the expense of farmland.  As recent as 50 years ago, M-59 was farm country.  In fact, in 1950, there were 2,345 operating farms in the county covering nearly 197,000 acres of land.  Today, the communities that border M-59 are some of the most populated in the county.

Yet farmland in Macomb County still exists and thrives.  Take a drive through Armada, Richmond or Ray townships and you’ll see people at work on their property; tilling fields, irrigating and harvesting.  A little more than a decade ago, a group of concerned citizens got together to start a campaign to protect this important resource.

Humble beginnings

Long before MAPDRC became a formal organization, a grassroots effort paved the way. 

Ken DeCock, President of MAPDRC was one of the first to get involved.  According to Ken, “There were a few of us in the beginning including Commissioner Keith Rengert, Commissioner Don Brown, Jim Fuerstenau, Mark Falker and Joe Kutchey.  We called ourselves the ‘Citizens for Quality Growth.’ We knew we needed to do something to protect farmland and open space.” 

A time line of milestones leading to the first PDR signing in Macomb County follows:

Citizens for Quality Growth (CQG) is formed in 1997 and launches a countywide educational campaign designed to inform others of how the loss of farmland impacts the entire county.

CQG develops a presentation and visits nearly every local unit of government in the county.  They offer a compelling argument that the entire region, including our urban communities, is adversely affected by the loss of farmland and open space.

As a result, 24 (of 27) Macomb municipalities adopt resolutions in support of a countywide examination of the issue of agricultural and open space preservation.

In response, the Macomb County Board of Commissioners (MCBoC) forms a “Farmland and Open Space Preservation Ad Hoc Committee” in 2000 with a charge to develop policy recommendations.  Sensitive that the resulting recommendations could be politically charged, especially as related to land use and development trends, MCBoC approaches the issue from a economic development perspective.

At this point, the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development gets involved to provide research related to the current economic impact of agricultural; how open space contributes to a healthy environment; preservation tools used in other communities; and also develops a model preservation ordinance.

MSU-E - the educational arm of Michigan State University - offers a bevy of programs for the community.  Through their agricultural assistance programs, they assist by extending the research resources of the University to help get the project on solid ground.

The resulting Macomb County Policy Recommendations on Farmland and Open Space Preservation is formally adopted by MCBoC in 2001.

MSU-E conducts a county-wide Citizen Opinion Survey.  It targeted ten northern Macomb County communities to gauge citizen opinion.  Nearly 42 percent of the surveys were returned representing more than 2,200 households in the target area.  The responses overwhelmingly supported the notion of farmland and open space preservation.

Meanwhile, CQG is nurturing its alliance with MCPED and MSU-E and together the group discovers that in order to qualify for a rumored grant from the State of Michigan, it needs to secure the absolute support of its local communities.  They enlist the support of officials from the northernmost townships of Armada, Bruce, Lenox, Ray and Richmond.

A working committee – The Northern Five – is formed with representation from all.

It was critical that each of these communities formally accept the principles of farmland preservation in order to make way for an eligible PDR program.

Using tools developed through the Urban Cooperation Act of 1967, the group formally signs an “inter-local agreement” and sets about to enact the proper ordinances.

CQG essentially evolves to become the Macomb Agricultural Purchase of Development Rights Committee (MAPDRC).   By agreement, there must be representation from the five agricultural communities, farmers, residents and MSU-E.  As work to enact the proper ordinances gets underway, the group also focuses its attention on a series of informational workshops designed to educate the general public, and more importantly, local farmers about farmland preservation.

In 2005, the Michigan Department of Agriculture announces its first ever “Local Purchase of Development Rights” grant program.  MAPDRC works with MCPED and MSU-E to develop the grant application as well as proposals to both The Carls Foundation and Macomb Farm Bureau to provide required matching funds.

In 2006, Ken DeCock travels to Lansing with Justin Robinson of MCPED and Vern Kulman, MAPDRC President at the time for a hearing of the Michigan Agricultural Preservation Fund Board.  To their great delight, the Macomb application receives the highest score of all and is awarded $278,000.  The application is cited for its strength especially as it pertains to the partnership formed by the five local units of government.   MAPDRC is the only PDR Committee in Michigan that demonstrates an inter-local agreement of five municipalities.

Matching grants of $15,000 are provided by The Carls Foundation and Macomb Farm Bureau.

MAPDRC begins the arduous task of executing the first purchase of development rights on a local farm.  After a pre-qualifying screen of applications, the next big step was to get the property properly appraised by an approved appraiser.  The community in which the proposed parcel exists must also formally agree to hold the development rights for the property and adjust property taxes accordingly. As part of the agreement, the local government must also annually inspect the property to insure that it is being maintained as promised.

After several false starts, landowner George Montgomery of Richmond Township permanently preserves nearly 40 acres of prime farmland he inherited.

The official transfer of development rights occurred on February 19 in Richmond Township and was officiated by Raymond DeBates of Colonial Title Company.  Nearly 40 people attended to watch the historic signing.  Aside from members of MAPDRC, a number of other farmland preservation supporters attended including Rich Harlow from the Michigan Department of Agriculture, Christine Stieg, Executive Director of The Carls Foundation and Glen Haack, President of the Macomb Farm Bureau to name just a few.  Jim Fuerstenau representing Wayne Wood of the Michigan Farm Bureau also attended to witness the occasion.

In recollecting the story for the assembled audience, DeCock gives special acknowledgement to Rich Harlow of the Michigan Department of Agriculture who frequently traveled from Lansing to offer counsel to the group.  “He even came to a meeting during his honeymoon and brought his new bride along!” DeCock also acknowledges the support of board member Marilyn Rudzinski for bringing the resources of MSU to the table and also to MCPED staffers Don Morandini and Justin Robinson.  (MCPED was honored as Distinguished Service Award by the Macomb Farm Bureau in 2006 for their role in assisting agriculture in Macomb County.)

Current members of MAPDRC include:

Ken DeCock, Chair (Armada Township)
Karon Ottenbacher, Vice Chair (Lenox Township
Vern Kulman, Treasurer (Richmond Township)
Charley Bohm, Secretary (Ray Township)

John Rhein (Lenox Township)
DJ Kehrig (Armada Township)
Tom Rudich (Ray Township)
Bob Bzalka (Bruce Township)
Marilyn Rudzinski, MSU Extension-Macomb
Commissioner Keith Rengert
Commissioner Don Brown

Funding is still available for a second parcel in the five communities.  Interested landowners should review the application packet and contact Ken DeCock at 586-634-4616

What is a Purchase of Development Rights?

Very simply stated, a PDR allows a landowner the option to preserve his/her property as farmland in perpetuity. In such a program, a landowner is paid the fair market value of the development rights of his/her property and an easement is then placed on the property that prohibits and future residential, commercial or industrial uses from being built on the land. (The landowner may further develop the property for agricultural or personal needs.)

The value of the development rights is generally calculated as the difference between the development value and the agricultural value of the land.

Proceeds of a PDR agreement may be used by the landowner to make additional investment in agricultural pursuits or living space.  The property can also be sold but the classification of “agricultural” stays attached to the property.

Applications are currently being accepted by MAPDRC.  For more information see the related links at the bottom of the page.


Application Directions and Checklist

Application Part 1

Application Part 2

Application Part 3

Farmland Open Space Recommendations

DR Farmland Brochure