A recent article in another farm publication reminded me of some of the issues facing Columbiana County land owners.
The article described the dilemma of a Union County, Ohio, farm family which faces serious issues with the City of Marysville regarding a new water treatment plant.
Marysville wants to install a large sanitary sewer across the farmland in order to avoid taking wastewater all the way around the farm to reach the new plant.
Sticking point. The city would use eminent domain to “take” a right-of-way across the farm, except, the family had previously granted an agricultural easement to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
The easement, donated to ODA for no money, states that the land cannot be developed for housing or industrial uses, forever. The intent of the easement is to keep the land in agriculture so it can never be developed.
ODA Director Fred Dailey has stated he will go to court to protect the land from development, including installation of the sewer line.
At issue is whether or not ODA has the authority, under the easement, to prevent the city from installing the sewer line.
A court could rule that the easement does not prevent a taking under eminent domain, even though the no-development provisions would be otherwise valid.
Dailey claims the easement rules out such takings.
Easement program. The easement on the Union County land is similar to those placed on numerous Ohio farms by ODA under the Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program.
This program, funded by Green Ohio Fund dollars, has been used for three years, to purchase development rights from land owners across Ohio.
Under a competitive application process, the landowner submits an offer to sell the development rights from his or her land in exchange for the granting of an agricultural easement.
The easement states that the land can never be developed, but can be farmed, sold, or passed through estates.
The application process calculates the value of the development rights on the land (basically the difference between the value of the land for development versus its value for agriculture).
How it affects you. What does this all have to do with Columbiana County land?
The Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program application clearly states that applicants in counties that have a current land use plan that has been adopted by county commissioners have a distinct advantage over those from counties with no land use plan.
Similarly, applicants in counties with a current (adopted by commissioners) farmland preservation plan also are at a competitive advantage.
Columbiana County has neither a comprehensive land use plan nor a farmland preservation plan, so 30 percent of the potential points on the Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program application are not available to Columbiana County land owners, effectively eliminating them from consideration for the easement purchase program.
Task force. The Columbian County Land Use Task Force has been established to create these plans for Columbiana County. Eleven public meetings of the task force have been held since March 31, 2005 to work on the project.
The mission of the Columbiana County Land Use Task Force is to: “support economic growth while protecting the environment, preserving agriculture and ensuring that the county is a desirable place to live, work and visit.”
Besides making land owners eligible for the Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program, there are numerous other benefits to a county when a good land use plan is in place.
Benefits. These benefits include: