Commission hears farmer’s view of rural development

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Planning consultant Scott Michie got the go-ahead from the Marion County Commission Monday to begin rewriting the county’s comprehensive plan. But not before a morning highlighted by discussion of farming interests when most previous input seemed to favor more small rural residential acreages.

Richard Meisinger, who farms north of Marion Reservoir, said he had been reading newspaper accounts of plan discussions in which real estate agents were said to favor more small-acreage development to meet the desires of potential rural residents to “enjoy country living.

As a result, he said, he thought someone should come in to represent the concerns of farmers trying to do their business with residents on small acreages around them.

Meisinger said farmers are concerned that aerial drift of agricultural chemicals could cause accidental kills of rural residents’ garden plants and flowers. He reminded commissioners “there’s never a time when there’s no wind in Kansas.”

Meisinger said farmers with grassland must burn pastures to keep evergreen trees from taking them over. The smoke not only can bother rural residents, but farmers must safeguard fires from getting into the new neighbors’ cedar windbreaks while the windbreaks provide new seedstock for more pasture trees.

He cited problems with the compatibility of wide farm machinery sharing growing automobile traffic on country roads, and a need for more gravel with more residents.

Meisinger said he already tries not to take farm machinery on the roads on Fridays and Saturdays because of the increased traffic to the reservoir.

He said rural residents with non-farm jobs also demand better snow removal on roads while farmers have learned “to improvise,” clearing pathways with tractors to feed cattle, and “not minding waiting for roads to be cleared,” Meisinger said.

Noise pollution from farm machinery working at night, a necessity in operations like baling alfalfa after dark to keep leaf retention, can bother residents who come to the country for quiet, he said.

Rural residents also can resent pollution in the form of odor or in runoff water from livestock operations. Such pollution causes massive expense for farmers who may be required to build structures such as livestock lagoons, he said.

Meisinger warned that economic development with small acreages can price land beyond the reach of farmers for production, helping to destroy the industry and farm families while changing the nature of the county.

He noted that rural residents can have unfair tax advantages over farmers when they pay taxes based on 11.5 percent of valuation while farm land is taxed based on 30 percent of valuation. Homes need to be in the $100,000-plus category to begin to equal taxes for the land that was taken, he said.

Meisinger asked the commissioners to make decisions that take into account the future of the county “20 years down the road and beyond.”

He asked that planning consider protecting agriculture from any more development stress than now with the goal of a small acreage density of no more than one house per 40 acres.

He suggested encouraging the development of smaller acreages only around the perimeter of existing urban communities in the county in a manner “consistent with their community plans” instead of scattered over the whole county.

David Brazil, planning and zoning director, said most discussion has centered on the smaller acreages being allowed down to five acres only on hard-surface corridor roads, and even allowing clusters of small plots, but still limiting density per quarter-section at no more than one house per 40 acres.

That could allow four homes, each on a five-acre plot on each frontage of a quarter-section of 160 acres fronting the 70 miles of hard-surface county roads that exist here without taking into account state highways, Brazil explained.

Commissioner Leroy Wetta said planning also can protect agriculture by not allowing rural residential development on the top classifications of one and two soils. Instead, such developments could be put on land classified down to No. 6 which can be unfarmable, thin, soiled gully areas that potential residents can find more attractive anyway.

Brazil said he didn’t think the county was far off from addressing Meisinger’s concerns if the 40-acre density principle and five-acre plots only on major corridors with it became the rules. He said chemical applicators try not to make application closer than 1,000 feet to a home anyway.

Commissioner Bob Hein said the sense of what he is hearing from his constituency around Hillsboro is that the one home per 40 acres density principle is not what they want.

Hein said people tell him they can have 10 or 15 acres here and there that is no good for farming anyway, and that they favor unlimited small-acreage development done according to health and safety standards, economics and what landowners are willing to sell.

Hein said he is leaning toward development being market directed.

Wetta said he also is in sympathy with elderly people who only have wealth in land, and want to be able to sell it to support retirement.

Meisinger said he is familiar with persons who say the ground is theirs, and they ought to be able to do what they want with it. But he cautioned it goes beyond individuals to things their neighbors and future generations will have to live with.

“When people sell farm land, and it is developed purely for the money that can come from it at the moment, that agricultural land to me has been destroyed and it never will be back again,” Meisinger said.

Brazil said zoning and planning usually never is purely black and white on how to do things, “mostly it’s shades of gray.”

Wetta said for a plan to be written, he thinks the county needs to envision how to allow growth while protecting agriculture, and making sure that development pays its own way.

Wetta said that in areas where public water and sewer are available, such as at Marion County Lake and at Eastshore, the county should allow down to city-size lots.

Wetta said this vision should allow further development in rural areas such as in the southern end of the county where small acreage development has already disrupted agricultural practices.

Wetta said he wouldn’t want to see the one house per 40 acres concept spread over the county from corridor roads and where it’s developed already because that would only complicate things for agriculture while compounding problems in taxation and road upkeep.

Hein reiterated that his constituents don’t seem to want any density limits for housing on land they don’t consider good for farming.

Michie, who works with the firm of Bucher, Willis & Ratliff, suggested the commissioners might want to consider something like the point system used widely across the black soil areas of Illinois, where land is protected from development in wide areas by point score according to productivity and location.

“Where there is paved road and rural water already, it would create a certain score more favorable to development,” he said.

Michie said he was hearing the commissioners that they want development to pay its own way too.

Commission Chairman Howard Collett said the road and bridge fund is only a 15-mill levy now, so he wouldn’t expect rural residents to feel that it hit their budgets too badly.

Collett said smaller acreages could be allowed according to site assessment with “development of the roughest land not hurting anything anyway.”

Wetta said the commission needs to make sure development is orderly rather than random, with principles outlined and few exceptions, “the devil’s in the details.”

Collett said he didn’t think any of the county commissioners or persons on the Marion County Planning Commission are really that far off from agreeing on what they want to see in a plan.

Michie said he finds that people always contribute to the big-picture issue of planing according to their sense of place, what they grew up with, and sometimes have different concepts of the same things.

With this in mind, Michie said he hears the county collectively saying it wants to preserve its agricultural nature, history and sense of open space while recognizing that things change by nature, and that there must be room for development.

Collett wondered whether something so nebulous as this sense of place could be translated into plans that would serve everybody noting that things like wind electrical generation farms could change the sense of place down the road, and that surely the Kanza Indians would find little sense of the place they knew in the Marion County of today.

Michie said the ideas given provide groundwork to begin revision of the plan for presentation for joint approval by the county commission and the planning commission.

Wetta said wind turbines generating electricity must become part of the plan, and Hein agreed that “they will be here soon.”

Brazil said that looking at current cross-country electric transmission lines, the most likely areas for wind turbine development will be along the U.S. Highway 50 corridor, near Butler County in the southeast, and near Dickinson County in the northwest.

The commissioners approved Dale Snelling, park director, hiring a third part-time person at the county lake, shopping for a second useable older truck, selling eight heavy wooden tables to obtain newer lighter ones, and replacing worn galvanizing plumbing in his home.

Snelling discussed using chip and seal overlaid with screenings versus more expensive dirt moving and concrete work for repair on the lake spillway.

The commissioners approved a bid of $35,998 from Rod’s Tire & Service over a bid of $39,500 from Cardie Oil for more than 100 tires for the Road & Bridge Department as long as the tires meet specifications.

After a recess, the commissioners came back into afternoon session to approve a $500 deductible Blue Cross Blue Shield Plan for 101 county employees that represents a $23,000 increase in premium over last year’s $250 deductible plan at a total of $332,639.46 for nine months.

Commissioners said the best bargain in the insurance might have been a home health and hospice addition for $1 per person per month.

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