Proposed subdivision law change affects land buyers and sellers

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SALEM, Ohio – A proposed Ohio law change could alter the way farmers sell their property or pass it to the next generation.

Senate Bill 115, introduced in July 2003 by Sen. Bob Gardner of Lake County, could change which parcels of land fall under subdivision regulations.

Those regulations mean a landowner has to jump through more hoops before they can sell their property.

Right now. Current regulations say auctioneers, real estate agents and developers must file plats with the county prior to selling or transferring ownership on subdivisions – any lot less than 5 acres – said Marianne White, a legislative aide for Gardner.

Plats include architectural drawings that lay out how parcels will be divided, where power lines, drainage, sewer or septic lines will run, and where houses will be placed.

“It’s all laid out on paper. But it’s also expensive,” White said, noting instances of large farms costing up to $20,000 to plat.

Proposal. Under Sen. Gardner’s plan, the threshold is upped to 20 acres to encourage more efficient use of the land.

The legislation is not designed to and will not slow rural development, White said.

The change also creates a mid-level option for parcels 5-20 acres.

That option doesn’t require full plat planning but still requires buyers and sellers to take a look at development options, called an administrative review.

Sellers would need an administrative review from local planning commissions, county engineers and health departments. The review, which includes planning for septic and drainage, must be done before a deed is filed, White said.

Supporters’ views. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation supports the larger lot legislation.

“The thrust of it is that 5-acre lots are really too big to mow and too small to farm. They’re pecking away at farming a little at a time,” said Rocky Black, Farm Bureau’s director for state legislative affairs.

“This certainly doesn’t prevent a farmer from selling his land, but it will mean better land management and efficiency,” he said.

Black said the change would require more planning by farmers.

“It would lower the temptation to peel off smaller tracts of land to sell,” he said.

Opponents. “I don’t understand why the state would want to be involved with land splits,” said Richard Kiko Sr., a landowner and prominent northeast Ohio auctioneer and real estate agent.

“It used to be a farmer could sell tracts off his farm over 5 acres with a simple boundary survey,” Kiko said.

“We don’t need this law,” he said, emphasizing road frontage and the ability to get septic permits should govern land splits.

“Guys selling their farms need to maximize value to pay mortgages or estate taxes. These guys have farmed their whole life, and their retirement is in the land,” Kiko said.

He said the law could hurt property values by 30 percent by adding the new regulations.

The American dream. “This really affects the American dream. It adds layers that make it so much more complicated to buy and sell,” Kiko said.

Already at work. Even without the law, a lot of counties with rapid development have similar regulations in place, Marianne White said.

“[Counties have] created their own rules that say in order for them to approve a sale, you need to get [the acreage] reviewed.

“They do it ahead of time because they don’t want to come in and mop up after drainage or sewer lines go bad” due to poor planning, she said.

However, those counties don’t have the legal authority to require the reviews. The new legislation would make legal what’s already happening, White said.

Development. Ohio has several ‘larger lot developers,’ White said. Those developers buy up 100 or 200 acres and break them into lots for resale.

The trend is splitting fields into 5.01-acre lots just to get around the requirement, Rocky Black said.

There’s no review from health departments or engineers required, and that’s leading to headaches for new homeowners and rural residents.

“It’s costing all taxpayers. In examples where septic tanks are broken or drainage doesn’t work, [counties] have to clean up and figure out ways to get rid of these problems in backyards,” White said.

Up to the county. The whole idea is optional at the county level, White added.

Once the legislation is effective, counties can opt out of the mid-level review and still only require reviews on parcels less than 5 acres.

Activity. The legislation would only apply to new land splits, White said.

Current law says land along an existing road can be divided four times each calendar year with no review.

That method would not be affected by the new law.

For example, a 10-acre plot could be broken into five 2-acre plots without review. This method is often used in estate planning, White said.

Why 20 acres? Marianne White said the 20-acre limit was pulled from the air for the new legislation.

“There’s no magic number. It could have been 10 or 15. [Legislators] just felt 20 acres is where a homeowner gets into true rural living,” she said.

Density. The real problem with lotting out property comes when development becomes too dense, White said.

Land buyers just want to build a house and move in, she said. But some sellers, described by White as “just in the business to dump off property and make a buck,” aren’t telling buyers their land is unbuildable.

“The government doesn’t stand to win or lose anything” with the legislation, she said.

“This is unbiased advice from someone looking out for the true interests of landowners,” she said.

“With this law, we won’t see any huge changes. Our belief is that this shouldn’t stop development. We just want better use of property,” White said.

Status. The bill is currently in the House County and Township Government committee. White said she hopes the legislation will be voted out of committee the week of May 17.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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