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Protecting the Land

Smart Roads: Petoskey identifies five tools for land protection; MDOT promises just one

June 1, 2000 | By Kelly Thayer
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Petoskey area residents want to protect farms, recreational land, and the region’s rural character. In conversations and community surveys, residents have expressed the high value they place on conserving the countryside.
According to the city-county Comprehensive Plan, Emmet County’s rapid growth threatens the region’s landscape. The state’s poorly planned bypass would only aggravate the situation by speeding the loss of farmland, planting sprawl in its place, and triggering the relocation of Petoskey’s urban core to the townships.
To control sprawl, the state promises to buy a 300-foot right-of-way and to limit new driveways connecting with the bypass. As the Smart Roads: Petoskey report makes clear, the state Department of Transportation plan will not protect the landscape. Attracted by the traffic, major new development will spread out all along the bypass. Sprawling businesses simply will connect their driveways to the dozen or more roads that will intersect the bypass.
Fortunately, there’s a better way. Smart Roads: Petoskey outlines five categories of conservation techniques to help maintain rural character, allow development in selected locations, and still ease congestion. Within these categories the Institute recommends the following actions, paid for by the tens of millions of dollars in savings provided by Smart Roads: Petoskey:

• Define an Urban Growth Boundary.
Local governments agree to draw a line on a map indicating where public money will be spent to extend roads, water lines, and sewer service, and where private developers must pay for infrastructure. This tool helps direct growth, preserve rural land, and save taxpayer money.
• Adopt Regional Zoning for Major Developments. City, county, and township governments agree to a regional zoning plan for the largest commercial developments. This would combat sprawl, preserve a distinction between urban and rural areas, and save taxpayer money by siting projects where roads, sewer, water, and other services exist.
• Employ Tax-base Sharing. Local governments cooperate to share tax revenue across a county or region. This allows decisions on where to locate heavily taxed developments to be based on sound planning criteria, rather than on which government offers the largest tax breaks.

• Use Open Space and Flood Plain Zoning.
Governments approve zoning to protect open space and flood plains along waterways. This prevents development from sprawling into the most scenic or ecologically important areas. Emmet County uses this tool in some places.
• Approve Coverage-maximum Zoning. This type of zoning defines the maximum amount of land that can be covered, or developed. This tool can prevent major developments with large parking lots in areas intended to remain rural.
• Promote Permanent Conservation Easements.
A property owner can sell or donate certain development rights, preserving the land or otherwise limiting its development. Creating a conservation easement typically results in substantial tax breaks for the owner.
• Design Greenways. State and local governments purchase open land to preserve it, and to create parks, trail networks, and other recreational options.
• Identify and Protect Resources. Local governments map natural resources and valuable open space for preservation on a township or region-wide basis. Governments then amend their master plans and ordinances to conserve these resources and direct development to appropriate areas.

• Encourage Landowner Compacts. Owners of adjoining properties agree to plan the development of their sites jointly, to preserve wetlands, woodlands, or other natural features.
• Require Two Conceptual Plans. Local governments require developers to provide two sets of plans for developing a site. One shows the maximum amount of development possible. The other shows how natural features within the site would be protected.
• Encourage Open Space Design Development. Local governments require or provide incentives for developers to preserve areas of parkland, farmland, or other natural features in their site design.
• Promote Bicycling and Walking. Local governments require or provide incentives for developers to include bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly designs in site plans.

• Create a Purchase of Development Rights Program.
A farmer or other owner of undeveloped land sells the future right to develop it while maintaining ownership and continuing to use it. The government buys the development rights through a deed restriction, ensuring that the current land use will not change.
• Offer Life Estates. The government buys property to enhance the overall area, but allows the former owner to remain for the rest of his or her life before claiming the property. If necessary, the state can purchase a limited number of homes along the Express Route, pay the homeowners now, and then claim the property when the residents leave

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