GVMC Eyes Greenspace Task

    GRAND RAPIDS — The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported earlier this month that Michigan lost 360,929 acres of farmland from 1997 to 2002.

    The Michigan Farmland and Community Alliance said that figure converts to a loss of 8 acres for each hour during that period.

    “This preliminary information suggests the rate of farmland conversion remains high,” said Jim Fuerstenau, executive director of the Michigan Farmland and Community Alliance.

    Fuerstenau added that since 1982 more than 1.4 million acres of farmland has been developed, largely for residential purposes.

    “The pattern of development in Michigan is fragmenting the land base and turning much of our agricultural land base into a quasi-rural setting with farmland parcels broken up and mixed with non-farm related residential housing,” he said.

    Michigan Department of Agriculture Director Dan Wyant felt that the continued loss of farmland needs to be addressed.

    “(The) ongoing erosion of our production agricultural base will challenge Michigan agriculture’s long-term viability and underscores the importance of farmland preservation,” said Wyant.

    Kent County addressed that issue with the creation of a Purchase of Development Rights program 15 months ago. County commissioners began in earnest last week to fund the PDR, as they gave the preservation board the green light to apply for federal funds to help buy development rights from farmers.

    Now the Grand Valley Metro Council, the region’s planning agency, may get involved in another aspect of preservation.

    GVMC is thinking about entering into a working agreement with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan that would have it inventory the amount of greenspace in West Michigan.

    Under the agreement, Metro Council Blueprint Director Andy Bowman said GVMC would hold regional charettes to determine how much land qualifies as greenspace and then have REGIS develop maps and tool kits for the conservancy, which wants to identify parcels that it could acquire.

    “We will help them identify (parcels) in the broadest sense,” said Bowman, who added that the West Michigan Strategic Alliance was doing similar work over a larger region.

    The land conservancy has offered to fund the effort to the tune of $20,000. REGIS is the Regional Geographic Information System and a Metro Council agency.

    GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula said the executive committee would review the offer and that he would likely bring it back to the board for a vote in March.    

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