COLUMBUS — With purchase of development rights the only farmland preservation measure to come out of the Ohio General Assembly last year, the whiz kids of planned development in Ohio have swung back into action.
Reps. Gene Krebs, R-Camden, and Sean Logan, D-Salineville, were unable to get a comprehensive preservation bill — crafted from information gathered by the statewide Farmland Preservation Task Force — passed in the Ohio House of Representatives last year. So they stepped back, listened to critics and friends, and hoped this week to introduce the first of seven bills that comprise the basics of a new comprehensive package.
“We streamlined the planning process, eliminated concentrated infrastructure districts, and revised our proposals for the CAUV law,” explained Krebs.
Logan viewed splitting the bill as a necessary step. “The issue is so large, the whole issue impacts so many segments of state and local government, and impacts a number of different areas of our society, breaking it out into different subjects means we can have the debate focus on particular subjects,” Logan said.
The first bill is a community planning bill that encourages county-wide land use planning. Grant allocations for a so-called urban renaissance would be made more readily to counties that achieved status as a Certified Well Planned County, a county where land use planning is done with an emphasis on agriculture security areas (ASAs).
For land to be designated in ASA, it has to be designated by being in Current Agricultural Use Value, and be in an agriculture district as designated by the county land use plan.
“Right now we tend to fund urban sprawl,” said Krebs. “We need to start funding in-fill, to fill up the existing vacant lots in urban areas. People are gobbling up farmland because cities are rapidly becoming unattractive to live in.
Logan said the first bill would seek to stop public funding for helter-skelter development. The law would ask the Ohio Public Works Commission to not fund, through Issue 2 monies, any unnecessary duplication of infrastructure.
“It’s taxpayers’ dollars that go to fund these improvements, and we should be very prudent about spending public money,” said Logan.
Logan would like to see the commission give priority to Certified Well-Planned Counties when granting financial assistance for local infrastructure projects.
The bill also makes changes to laws regarding household sewage disposal, by allowing county commissioners to establish areas of the county that are not suitable for septic tanks based on scientific criteria (such as PERC analysis).
Changes would also be rendered to the Ohio estate tax law. “We want to forgo the state estate tax when land is transferred but remains in ag production,” Logan said. “But the farm would be eligible only if it is in a county that is designated as a Certified Well-Planned County.
“We want state and local officials to think about how, when, where and why we grow. We are not against growth, but we want it to be better planned. This bill creates planning that is permissive and locally driven.”
Although Ohio ag district law is different in some respects from Iowa’s ag security district law that was recently struck down, Krebs said Ohio law was nonetheless based on Iowa’s, and it will be only a matter of time and law suits before Ohio ag districts are stripped away.
“If you really want to be afraid, read the Iowa decision; it had 20 precedents, 15 federal in nature, that supported ag districts. For us farmers, it was a grave, grave decision, probably the black day for agriculture in Ohio. We are looking at some zoning regulations to give us some protection in this post Iowa universe.”
The first bill will rely heavily on improved zoning specifications, Krebs said, and they anticipate using zoning as a vehicle to make other changes.
“We have ag zoning now that has no teeth,” Krebs said. “We need to get communities to enact zoning that has some very strong details with it, something that very clearly protects the farmer’s right to farm.”
He noted that a steel mill can be very noisy, and occasionally spews out some smoke, but since it is zoned industrial, specifically for industry, nobody sues the steel mill that it keeps them up at night.
CAUV qualification in Ohio is now 10 acres, and the Krebs-Logan bill last year would have raised that to 40 acres. In this year’s bill they have scaled that back to 20 acres.
“CAUV is meant for production agriculture,” Krebs emphasized. “If it is diluted too much for everybody with a five- or 10-acre hobby farm, they will eventually take it away from us.”
Krebs rejects the notion that CAUV should remain accessible to hobby farms or anyone with a few acres and a horse or two so that they could serve as a buffer between development and production agriculture.
“They have no buffering purpose at all,” he said. “Development just leap-frogs over them. Then you get the worst of both worlds, countryburbia.”