ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JANET HAMOUS
The dream of owning a home on “five acres in the country” is close to becoming a reality in Marion County.
In September, the Marion County Commission approved a comprehensive plan that will open the door for small-acreage residential development in the county and permit homes to be built on five-acre lots.
Under current rules, rural residential sites must be at least 40 acres-or 10 acres if there is an existing homestead on the land-which proponents of the change claim is a significant barrier to rural housing development.
“The only way people can build is if they buy 40, and 40 acres is not realistic to own just to build a house on it,” said Delores Dalke, owner of Real Estate Center in Hillsboro. “What do you do with 40 acres?
“Even the 10 acres was not realistic,” she added. “People who want to live in the country want some space around themselves, but they don’t have the equipment to deal with 10 acres. That’s a large area to maintain.”
County planning director David Brazil said the change was prompted by public demand.
“We held public meetings when we began working on the comprehensive plan and requested people’s input,” he said.
The prior comprehensive plan dated back to 1972, Brazil said, when rural residential development was less of an issue.
Dalke said she believes the zoning change will not only benefit those who want to build homes on small acreages in the country, but will also preserve more land for agriculture because people will be buying five-acre sites rather than 40-acre plots.
“When you use larger parcels, they come out of production for agriculture,” she said. “Smaller parcels will allow more land to stay in ag.”
The change will also allow farmers to sell off land that is marginal farming ground, she said.
“The objection has been that Marion County is an ag county, and we don’t want to mess with that,” Dalke said. “But the places people want to build are not good production acres. They want to build on what most of us would call waste ground. Their ideal spot is something that a farmer’s not using anyway.
“Most of the time, when somebody wants to build a home in the country, they will come to a real estate agent and say, ‘I’m looking for two to three acres in the country and I would like to have trees and hills and maybe even a creek running through it,'” she said. “That kind of a parcel is probably wasteland to a farmer because you don’t grow things under trees next to a creek.”
Brazil agreed. “Most people want to build their homes on hills where there are rocks and trees. That’s not the best agricultural land. So this may be the best of both worlds.”
He said zoning regulations being developed will put controls in place to ensure that prime agricultural real estate will not be replaced by large housing developments.
One such condition will be that the net density of homes in undeveloped areas cannot exceed one household per 40 acres. Thus, the maximum number of houses you would see clustered together would be four, he said, if homes were placed at adjacent corners of four 40-acre parcels.
Brazil said that before any five-acre site is approved for rezoning, the land will be reviewed using the Land Evaluation and Site Assessment system.
“It is a numbering system that looks at the site,” Brazil said.
The LESA system gives county officials a quantifiable method of assessing factors that affect the decision to rezone land from agriculture to non-agriculture use. It involves both an evaluation of the land-including soil properties and desirability for agricultural use-and site assessment, which includes other factors relating to the site being considered.
LESA will be used to help protect areas with the best soil for farming use while turning such things as steep, rocky, eroded, tree-covered hillsides to residential use.
Brazil said the new regulations will also require that a disclaimer be written into the deeds for new homes built within 300 feet of an agricultural use in the agricultural district. The disclaimer is basically a reminder to non-farm homeowners that they are locating in an agricultural area and may be subject to certain inconveniences that come with living in the country.
In Brazil’s experience, farmers and city-cum-country folk sometimes make ill-suited neighbors.
Life on the farm goes on as normal regardless of the new folks living over the fence, and Brazil said non-farm homeowners are sometimes unpleasantly surprised when farm odors, dust and noise do not magically stop at their property lines.
He remembers one country homeowner who was not pleased to find wheat chaff in his swimming pool.
Brazil said detailed zoning regulations are currently being written to address the specific conditions and guidelines of the plan.
“The plan sets the tone,” Brazil said, “but the zoning regulations are the tools.”
When the regulations are complete, the Board of Commissioners will review them and invite public comment.
Once the regulations are given final approval, they go into effect immediately, Brazil said. He expects the whole process to take five to eight months.
A recent drop in building applications may be a sign that people are waiting for the new regulations to take effect, Brazil said.
“People are waiting because they don’t want to buy 40 acres in order to build a home,” Dalke said. “This is the time with the boon in housing when we should be ready for it.
“We need to move forward on this,” she added. “We need more people in Marion County because people are essential for economic growth. If people buy five acres of waste ground and build a $100,000 to $150,000 house there, that’s also going to bring more tax money into our county. It will also bring more kids into our schools. It’s a win-win situation.”