COLUMBUS — Gov. Nancy P. Hollister signed S.B. 223, a farmland protection bill, into law Jan. 4, allowing the state of Ohio and local governments to acquire agricultural easements for the purpose of protecting productive farmland from conversion to nonagricultural use.
The easements are voluntary legal agreements restricting development on farmland, with the land remaining on the tax rolls and under private ownership and management.
S.B. 223 passed the Ohio Senate by a 32-0 vote and the Ohio House of Representatives in a 87-5 vote.
The law allows local governments to pay for easement acquisitions through locally approved tax revenues, but does not mandate any increase in state or local taxes.
“This legislation is completely voluntary on the landowner’s part,” said Sen. Grace Drake, the bill’s sponsor. “If the farmer and the local voters decide farmland conservation is important to them, this law gives local communities the option to use local funding for agricultural easements.”
The easements could be donated or sold as part of a Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) agreement. Under a PDR program, a government agency would pay a landowner the difference between the agricultural and development value of land in exchange for a deed restriction precluding the development of the land for nonagricultural uses.
The state could also accept donations of money or land for the purpose of protecting farmland.
“Ohio is one of only four states that has more than 50 percent of its land classified as prime farmland,” said Ohio Agriculture Director Fred L. Dailey.
At least 59 counties have begun incorporating farmland preservation into local community planning efforts.
This is likely to be the only bill Hollister signs into law. She became Ohio’s 66th governor at noon on Dec. 31, replacing George Voinovich, who resigned as governor to prepare for his role as a U.S. Senator.
Hollister, Ohio’s first woman governor, will serve until Jan. 11, at which time Republican Bob Taft will be sworn in as Ohio’s 67th governor.
In signing the bill, Hollister completes a major role she has played in crafting Ohio’s farmland preservation legislation. As lieutenant governor, she was one of three co-chairs of the governor’s Farmland
Preservation Task Force. The legislation was one of several recommendations issued in 1997 by the task force.
“Our work on the farmland preservation task force showed that this is one way we can have smart growth for our rural and suburban communities,” Hollister said in signing the bill.