Creating Successful Communities is a practical compendium of techniques for effective land use and growth management. It offers a framework for land-use decisionmaking and growth management: techniques for protecting key resources such as agricultural land, open space, historic and cultural structure, aesthetics, and rivers and wetlands as well as ways to organize effectively. The companion Resource Guide provides detailed information on topics covered in Creating Successful Communities.
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About the Author
Michael A. Mantell was general counsel of World Wildlife Fund and The Conservation Foundation, where he oversaw legal and congressional affairs for the two affiliated organizations. He directed the Successful Communities Program and the Land, Heritage and Wildlife Program of the foundation in Washington, D.C., and managed its State of the Environment and National Parks Projects. A principle author of National Parks for a New Generation and A Handbook on Historic Preservation Law,he has also been involved in foundation work on wetland and floodplain protection, industrial siting, and environmental dispute resolution. Before joining the foundation in 1979, he was with the city attorney's office in Los Angeles, where he worked on various environmental matters. Michael Mantell is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Lewis and Clark College Law School, and was chairman of an American Bar Association Subcommittee on Federal Land-Use Policy.
Luther Propst was field director for The Conservation Foundation's Successful Communities Program in Washington, D.C., where he oversaw the delivery of technical assistance in land use matters to communities nationwide. Before joining The Conservation Foundation, he was an attorney in the Land Use Group with the Hartford, Connecticut, law firm of Robinson & Cole, where he represented governments, developers, and local environmental organizations in land use matters. Luther Propst received his law degree and master's of regional planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He co-authored Managing Development in Small Towns,nbsp; published in 1984 by the American Planning Association, and has taught land use law as an adjunct professor at the Western New England College School of Law.
Stephen F. Harper is a Washington-based environment policy and planning consultant and writer. He formerly directed the Nonprofit Organization Assistance Program of the California State Coastal Conservancy and served as assistant director of the American Farmland Trust. He has also served in staff capacities with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado State Legislative Council, and in several state agencies in New Jersey. He authored The Nonprofit Primer, a guidebook to management of citizen conservation organizations, published by the California State Conservancy. Stephen F. Harper has a master's degree in public affairs from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, a B.A. from University of Colorado, and has completed additional studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
Michael A. Mantell was general counsel of World Wildlife Fund and The Conservation Foundation, where he oversaw legal and congressional affairs for the two affiliated organizations. He directed the Successful Communities Program and the Land, Heritage and Wildlife Program of the foundation in Washington, D.C., and managed its State of the Environmand National Parks Projects. A principle author of National Parks for a New Generation and A Handbook on Historic Preservation Law,he has also been involved in foundation work on wetland and floodplain protection, industrial siting, and environmental dispute resolution. Before joining the foundation in 1979, he was with the city attorney's office in Los Angeles, where he worked on various environmental matters. Michael Mantell is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Lewis and Clark College Law School, and was chairman of an American Bar Association Subcommittee on Federal Land-Use Policy.
Luther Propst was field director for The Conservation Foundation's Successful Communities Program in Washington, D.C., where he oversaw the delivery of technical assistance in land use matters to communities nationwide. Before joining The Conservation Foundation, he was an attorney in the Land Use Group with the Hartford, Connecticut, law firm of Robinson & Cole, where he represented governments, developers, and local environmental organizations in land use matters. Luther Propst received his law degree and master's of regional planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He co-authored Managing Developmin Small Towns,nbsp; published in 1984 by the American Planning Association, and has taught land use law as an adjunct professor at the Western New England College School of Law.
Stephen F. Harper is a Washington-based environmpolicy and planning consultant and writer. He formerly directed the Nonprofit Organization Assistance Program of the California State Coastal Conservancy and served as assistant director of the American Farmland Trust. He has also served in staff capacities with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado State Legislative Council, and in several state agencies in New Jersey. He authored The Nonprofit Primer, a guidebook to managemof citizen conservation organizations, published by the California State Conservancy. Stephen F. Harper has a master's degree in public affairs from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, a B.A. from University of Colorado, and has completed additional studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
Read an Excerpt
Creating Successful Communities
A Guidebook to Growth Management Strategies
By Michael A. Mantell, Stephen F. Harper, Luther Propst, Roger K. Lewis
ISLAND PRESSCopyright © 1990 The Conservation Foundation
All rights reserved.
* * *
SUBURBS-IN-WAITING: THE THREATS TO AGRICULTURAL LAND RESOURCES
THE POLITICS OF AGRICULTURAL LAND PRESERVATION
PLANNING FOR AGRICULTURAL LAND PRESERVATION
Build Consensus for Action: Form an Advisory Committee
LOCAL AGRICULTURAL PRESERVATION TECHNIQUES
Purchase of Development Rights
Transfer of Development Rights
THE ROLE OF PRIVATE LAND TRUSTS
STATE AGRICULTURAL LAND PRESERVATION PROGRAMS
Differential Property Taxation
Purchase of Development Rights
LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS IN PROTECTING FARMLAND
SUGGESTIONS FOR DEVELOPING AN EFFECTIVE LOCAL PROGRAM
Black Hawk County, Iowa
Hardin County, Kentucky
King County, Washington
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Montgomery County, Maryland
I think our government will remain virtuous for many centuries, as long as they remain chiefly agricultural. —THOMAS JEFFERSON
Suburbs-in-Waiting: The Threats to Agricultural Land Resources
America's agricultural land, with skilled farmers and a temperate climate, has made this country the "breadbasket of the world." The perceived abundance of farmland means that agricultural land protection is not often high on the agenda of decision-makers. Many local officials, who often favor growth in tax revenue more than agricultural preservation, picture prime farmland as shopping centers and suburbs-in-waiting:
The idea that agricultural zoning would be permanent is new to most planning commissions. Previously most planners and most zoning ordinances treated the agricultural zones as if their sole purpose was to await the salvation of urban development.
This picture is reinforced by the fact that the best agricultural land (because it is unwooded, relatively flat, and has well-drained soils) often is well suited for development.
The process by which agricultural land becomes suburban and urban land tends to be incremental and characterized by subtle changes. The actual breaking of ground is only the conclusion of this conversion process. The principal factors that drive this farmland conversion process include:
The local economic viability of agriculture;
The loss of the critical mass of agricultural land within an area necessary to support agricultural services and markets, such as farm supply and implement businesses;
Local annexation policy and public investment decisions, especially for road improvements, and sewer or water system construction;
The strength of local growth pressures and the resulting difference in land values for agricultural use and for development;
The difference in land values of rural and urban land;
The circumstances, lifestyle preferences, and life cycles of individual farm families;
The adequacy of local growth management on the urban fringe (many cities have effective growth management in established neighborhoods where neighborhood associations are strong, and a laissez-faire attitude in urban fringe areas).
Urban residents increasingly are drawn to the attractions of pastoral landscapes and rural lifestyles. While the first such immigrants often settle on "ranchettes" or "farmettes"—parcels of perhaps 5 to 20 acres serviced by country roads, private wells, and septic systems—their growing numbers begin to require extension of public services and better roads. Denser development and commercial uses soon follow, often with little or no land use controls. In effect, the advent of newcomers serves to replicate the suburbs from which they recently fled.
Intrusion of low-density scattered development into agricultural districts on just a few parcels casts the shadow of inevitable development over a much larger area. The encroachment of development sets an example for other farmers and creates conflicts between farmers and the new residents over the smells, noise, pesticides, and other attributes of agriculture. The suburban residents bring problems such as trespassing by children attracted to potentially hazardous farm ponds and barns. It may also bring vandalism and theft. Continuing subdivision development leads to commercial development and drives land prices higher, making it more difficult and expensive to assemble or maintain enough land to support viable agricultural operations. Long-established land tenure patterns change as smaller parcels begin to predominate and landowner-farmers become tenant-farmers. Many parcels held by speculators or developers simply may be left idle.
These changes create an "impermanence syndrome," causing remaining farmers to doubt the future viability of agriculture in the area and encouraging these farmers to move or abandon their farming operations. As these farmers reduce their capital investment, and agricultural support services close or convert to lawn and garden operations, the syndrome is reinforced.
The Politics of Agricultural Land Preservation
Rural areas in this country generally have little tradition of land use planning or control; planning and growth management, in fact, is often quite controversial among rural landowners. Some farmers support and even initiate efforts to prevent suburban intrusion into agricultural districts. Other farmers see these efforts as wrongfully reducing land values and strongly object to such efforts. These farmers often point out that, when development pressures are great, efforts to preserve farmland may only induce the remaining farmers to sell out immediately to avoid potential future controls.
Local agricultural land preservation efforts—and the climate in which they arise—can be divided roughly into two types:
Those in farm communities where little or no suburban intrusion has occurred and land values have not appreciated due to development pressure; and
Those in communities where land values have substantially appreciated due to development pressure and local land uses include a mix of both suburban and agricultural uses.
Successful farmland preservation programs must carefully and realistically assess local conditions and tailor the program to these conditions. The tools appropriate for protecting a viable agricultural district differ from those appropriate for preserving remnant farm parcels within a mixed agricultural and suburban area. In essentially suburban areas, effective farmland protection programs often focus on preserving remnant farms, in part for their cultural and recreational value as a place where suburban residents can ride horses and learn about farm operations and lifestyles, as well as for their traditional agricultural values. These programs rely more upon incentives and acquisition of development rights than upon agricultural zoning and regulations.
With this distinction in mind, this chapter includes the following sections:
Approaches to planning for farmland preservation;
Specific farmland preservation techniques; and
Legal considerations in farmland preservation.
Planning for Agricultural Land Preservation
The first step in protecting local agricultural land is to assess realistically the objectives of a local agricultural preservation program. There are diverse and numerous reasons for local agricultural preservation, including:
Permanently preserving sources of food and fiber and protecting the viability of the local agricultural economy by preventing suburban encroachment;
Preserving rural lifestyles and pastoral landscapes to the extent feasible as suburban development encroaches into agricultural areas;
Preserving remnant farms in an essentially suburban landscape to provide landscape diversity, a rural local image, and for recreational, educational, and cultural benefits.
The appropriate approach and tools to consider depend largely upon which of these objectives are viable and are most important.
BUILD CONSENSUS FOR ACTION: FORM AN ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Widespread community involvement and a level of community consensus are crucial. "Community" necessarily means owners of agricultural land, feed and implement dealers, agricultural lenders, the county agricultural extension agent, a soil conservation district representative, and others who have a stake in the future of local agriculture. Unanimous support from the agricultural community is not necessary, but effective farmland preservation action rarely takes place over the objection of the agricultural community.
Formation of an agricultural advisory committee or agricultural representation on a broader community advisory group will serve to strengthen the program and add credibility to the process by helping to avoid the accusation that a program has been "shoved down the throats" of local farmers by new suburban residents.
After realistically determining the program's objectives and developing a broad community coalition for effective action, a work program should be developed. The first step is to gather as much relevant information as possible about the characteristics of local agricultural operations and resources and the threats to those operations and resources. The information necessary to mount a credible case for preservation can also help to build community support for agricultural preservation. This information should document the following factors:
Economic and cultural contributions. To build the case that agriculture is an important part of the local economic base, or that local remnant agricultural operations make an important contribution to local distinctiveness, image, and quality of life.
Land identification. To identify districts that should be preserved in order to protect and enhance the local agricultural economy, or to identify farms that should be preserved for their unique economic, recreational, cultural, and aesthetic assets.
Land use patterns. To document trends in the use of agricultural land, particularly its conversion to suburban and urban uses.
Costs of sprawl. To document the local fiscal, economic, and environmental costs of suburban sprawl relative to a compact form of development. The costs to consider include the increased public costs of providing public facilities and services, the economic impacts on agricultural operations resulting from suburban intrusions, and the environmental degradation associated with low- density "leapfrog" development.
There are a variety of sources for information on these areas of research. For example, in documenting the local economic importance of agriculture, the U.S. Census of Agriculture, conducted by the Census Bureau, provides data on the number of farms, farm size, value of farm equipment and other inputs, and level of farm sales. The county agricultural extension agent, a federal employee who provides technical assistance to local farmers, can also help in the use of census documents as well as provide additional information on locally grown crops, the profitability of local agricultural operations, and the overall contribution of agriculture to the local economy.
A community survey, questionnaire, or canvass is often an effective way to document the noneconomic or cultural benefits of preserving agricultural land. These tools can document how agriculture affects the community's self-image and quality of life. A local newspaper or television station, the journalism department of a nearby university, or a local or regional planning agency probably will be glad to manage or assist with the undertaking. Surveys in many rural and urbanizing communities have shown that the loss of farmland is a widespread local concern, and that residents are willing to support regulations, bond issues, and incentive programs for farmland preservation. The results of polls and surveys often differ significantly from the impression left from public hearings, which tend to attract vocal people with strongly held opinions that may not represent the majority viewpoint.
Identifying that part of the local agricultural landscape to preserve is a critical concern. One farmland preservation authority has developed a conceptual formula that describes a method for determining how to identify potential agricultural districts. In this formula, the location of potential agricultural districts is determined by subtracting the following types of land from all land in the community:
Land already urbanized;
Land officially projected for urbanization;
Land already subdivided;
Land owned by developers or speculators;
Land with poor soil;
"Sensitive" land (e.g., wetlands);
Small and oddly shaped parcels; and
Publicly owned open space.
Once the data necessary to fill in these variables have been gathered, the location and total acreage of potential agricultural districts can be roughly calculated. This information can be presented effectively in a series of transparent maps using a common scale. By overlaying these maps, one can identify the potential agricultural districts. Table 1 summarizes where the data necessary to perform this type of evaluation can be found in most communities.
Identification of potential agricultural districts is the beginning, rather than the end, of the evaluation process. A more detailed analysis of such land can isolate the best agricultural land within these areas. The local office of the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) (an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture), the county agricultural extension agent, or the local soil conservation district each has several sources of information available that can assist in identifying local soils best suited for agriculture. These agencies also can help in interpreting soils maps and soils surveys.
These sources of information include the SCS soil classification system, surveys of important agricultural soils, and the Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) System:
The Soil Conservation Service's soil classification system divides soils into eight "soil capability classes," based on their capacity for supporting crops. The highest producing agricultural soils are called "prime farmland soils." These are soils "that have the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, forage, fiber, and oil seed crops, and is also available for these uses." They produce the most food or fiber with the least inputs of fertilizer and labor. In addition, the SCS identifies "unique" farmland. These are lands that, due to a combination of good soil, location, moisture, and other beneficial characteristics, are well suited to producing specialty crops such as fruits and vegetables.
Based upon soil surveys, the SCS has prepared "Important Farmland Surveys," showing the location of both prime and unique farmlands for many counties.
The Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) System is a computerized information system managed by the SCS that can be used by local governments to determine which lands are best suited for agriculture; rate a district for the viability of continued agricultural use; choose a minimum residential parcel size in agricultural areas; and determine where public infrastructure projects should be located to minimize conversion pressure on farmland.
Local Agricultural Preservation Techniques
The most promising approaches to local farmland preservation can be classified as follows:
Purchase of development rights to agricultural land; and
Transfer of development rights.
Agricultural zoning is a widely used farmland preservation technique; however, agricultural zoning appears in many forms and varies widely in effectiveness. Whatever approach is taken, agricultural zoning needs to ensure that suburban and urban development do not intrude into viable agricultural districts. The ultimate success of agricultural zoning is determined largely by how strong the community consensus is for farmland preservation, so that local authorities can resist the temptation to grant rezoning and variance requests that are inconsistent with preserving farmland.
Agricultural zoning techniques can be grouped as follows:
1. Large lot residential zoning;
2. Exclusive agricultural zoning;
3. Cluster zoning; and
4. Performance-based zoning.
Large Lot Residential Zoning
Early agricultural zoning ordinances typically were ineffective in protecting agricultural areas from suburban intrusion. Relatively small minimum lot sizes for nonfarm residences (e.g., 120,000 square feet or less) are a common feature of such ordinances.
These minimum lot size regulations reduce the density of residential development, often resulting in residential lots that are "too small to plow and too big to mow." If used judiciously, they may temporarily discourage subdivision development, but when relied upon too widely, only exacerbate urban sprawl. Rather than encouraging agricultural land preservation, the result is often inefficient subdivision tracts that unnecessarily consume agricultural land and rural landscapes. These large minimum lot size regulations have not prevented suburban intrusion into agricultural districts and are an ineffective approach for preserving agricultural lands.
Excerpted from Creating Successful Communities by Michael A. Mantell, Stephen F. Harper, Luther Propst, Roger K. Lewis. Copyright © 1990 The Conservation Foundation. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsAbout Island Press,
About The Conservation Foundation,
CHAPTER 1 - Agricultural Land,
CHAPTER 2 - Rivers and wetlands,,
CHAPTER 3 - Historic and Cultural Resources,
CHAPTER 4 - Aesthetic Resources,
CHAPTER 5 - Open Space Resources,
CHAPTER 6 - Starting and managing a Nonprofit Corporation,
CHAPTER 7 - Seizing the Initiative,
APPENDIX A - A Primer on Growth Management Tools and Techniques,
APPENDIX B - Tax Benefits of Private Land Conservation,
About the Authors,
The Conservation Foundation Board of Directors,
Also Available from Island Press,
Island Press Board of directors,