In a recent newspaper editorial by David Ross, West Nottingham Township supervisor and former member of the township's Planning Commission Advisory Board for Comprehensive Planning, Mr. Ross asserted that the Planning Commission had taken into account many of the concerns of the farmland owners in the township when the commission issued an Errata sheet. I would judge that to be a gross overstatement. At the public hearing before the Planning Commission, only two township people spoke in support of the Comprehensive Plan, Mr. Ross and one other who was involved in the plan's development. Of the other 60-some township people present, mostly all farmland owners, about 15 voiced strong concerns, and most of those not speaking were nodding their support of those voiced concerns. Practically all of the concerns were about the recommendations in the plan that, if adopted, would seriously decrease the free market value of their land. In most cases, farmland owners look at their investment in the land as an investment for the future; for retirement.
The changes on the Errata sheet do little to erase the concerns of the farmland owners. Of the 12 items on the Errata sheet, only two changes address the concerns of the farmland owners over the loss of the market value of their land (and only in a minor way.) The other 10 items do not address the farmland owners' concerns. For example, changing the name of a land use pattern from "Agricultural Protection" to "Rural Protection" does nothing to alleviate the concerns of the farmland owners. Errata sheet items changing the names on the inside cover to include those of former commission and board members, along with the addition of an "Executive Summary," do nothing for the landowners. Removing the zoning category "Agricultural Zoning" sounds good and might have some value, but it doesn't significantly address the concerns. The recommendations, which are the root cause of the farmland owners' financial concerns, remain in the plan. Nine of the 12 Errata items have to do with the removal of "Agricultural Zoning." Of value here is the removal of the one-acre minimum lot size when developing cluster housing and the removal of housing density limits in what would have been the Agricultural Zone, which were variously stated as 10 to 25 acres per dwelling unit or 10 to 50 acres per dwelling unit. However, there is much in the plan's recommendations to discourage cluster housing so that one change does little to help.
Bottom line, all of this removal of "Agricultural Zoning" is really of little added value to the farmland owners because the planners and supervisors had already assured us that they had no intention of reducing minimum lot sizes in existing R-1 (two acres) and R-2 (one-acre) zones. At best, it only puts into writing the removal of some threat to the possibility of their reneging on some part of their previous verbal promises.
What is needed is removal of all those recommendations that further restrict (as compared to the existing zoning) the ability of a developer to put houses on a piece of land. The plan recommends that farmland owners be permitted to sell Transferable Development Rights (TDRs). That is good. The bad part is all the recommendations that result in the reduction of the number of TDRs available for the landowner to sell. By establishing limits, such as recommending that the township not allow development in woodlots (nor timber harvesting); that buffer zones (beyond those now existing) wherein development is prohibited or restricted be established around things as woodlots all developments over 20 acres, wetlands, scenic vistas, flood plains, aquifer recharge areas, historic resources, streams and view sheds; that development on class 1, 2 and 3 soils be prohibited; that a 200-foot wide buffer zone be established in the development between it and adjacent farmland; and finally that all this land be netted out of any calculations of TDRs (in case of woodlots and class 1, 2 and 3 soils that net out would be on a percentage basis) that a landowner may sell. The recommendations in this plan, with all their additional restrictions on building will also prove a discouragement to developers and make it far less likely that they will want to buy TDRs, thus further hurting farmland owners who might want to sell TDRs if they were calculated on a fair and reasonable basis.
By way of example, on my 100-acre farm, under current zoning I could probably get approval for 35 home sites (I'm actually in a two-acre zoning area-were it one-acre zoning, I could probably get approval for 60). These estimates are based on lot layouts developed by a professional developer. If all recommendations remaining in the Comprehensive Plan were implemented, I could probably get 12 lots approved. To be allowed to sell only 12 TDRs instead of 35 (or 50 calculated at two acres each over the entire land held in deed) is to offer me a tremendous financial loss and would certainly deter me from selling TDRs. Township officials "say" they want to preserve open space by allowing the selling of TDRs, but what they "do" is make it likely, if the recommendations are adopted, that the sale of development rights will not occur. Selling 12 development rights off my property will make it impossible for my whole 100 acres to ever be developed. Under those circumstances I will not well TDRs; I will sell to a developer and the open space will be lost.
At the last public meeting regarding the plan, Mr. Ross said he wanted to assure every farmland owner that they would get out of their land every dollar they put into it. Think about that if you invested your money in you land years ago at then prevailing prices.
At township meetings we all take the Pledge of Allegiance to "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." There is an attack on our liberty and an infringement on justice in the recommendations of this plan if ever I saw such.