Thursday, December 5, 2013

Rural By Design: How to Save Farm Land

The week before Thanksgiving I attended a meeting for PlanET and the Knoxville Metro Planning Board that hosted Randall Arendt to speak on how farms and rural landscapes can be preserved. He is a planner and author and promotes what he calls rural by design.

Typically when a developer chops up a piece of property they use it all in the simplest way possible while following local ordinances. More often than not this results in houses on large lots. If the lot buyers/homeowners hoped to move to the country the country/farmland would actually be eaten up by the house lots.

How do you plan then for new lots with houses and farmland to be side by side? Mr. Arendt's idea is that we should change the ordinances that require wide setbacks and large lots and instead make the lots smaller and closer together. Also, the most usable farmland in the piece of property should be said aside as agriculture only, and not be able to be used for anything else, thus preserving it.

Here's an example of a conventional development by Arendt from Land Choices:

Conventional Development credit Arendt
Here is an example of the same plot using conservation by design:

Conservation Development credit Arendt
The first version shows the farmland eaten up by roads and large lots. The second version shows how the same number of lots can be built and still retain much of the farmland. You can see more at Land Choices.

Randal Arendt gave several examples on how the farmland could be used including Christmas trees, horses and stables, crops, cattle, etc. He believes the property gains value by the lots being able to be a part of the rural landscape instead of eliminating it. I'm sure he could expound upon that much, much more.

I thought it was very interesting, but wondered how do you sell the idea to farmers that are in a position to sell some of their land. After ordinances are modified to allow the new densities of the properties, would landowners want to go down this road? How would the homeowners get along with the farmer creating dust when tilling the farmland that their houses surround? What about cattle that inevitably get out and walk in their yards? Would they be okay when the farmer sprays the crops with pesticides or herbicides or even fertilizers or manure?

Preserving rural land is a good thing and planning in this manner may work to do it. How would you feel about selling your land in a development like this or in buying a lot in one?

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