Americans are getting greedier and greedier when it comes to the size of their properties. Over the past 20 years, the acreage per person for new subdivision housing almost doubled; since 1994, 10+ acre housing lots have accounted for 55 percent of the land developed. And where is the land coming from? From our agricultural areas. Farm and ranch land is desirable for building because it tends to be flat, well drained, and affordable with our best agricultural soils being developed the fastest.
Urban sprawl is devouring farmland at the rate of 2 acres per minute, 24 hours a day. Urban-influenced areas are in the path of our food production with 86% of our fruits and vegetables and 63% of our dairy products produced in urban-influenced areas. From 1982-1997, U.S. population grew by 17 percent, while urbanized land grew by 47 percent. It has to stop.
In Allen County, the proposed “Conceptual Development Map” – build out – is shown below. The Map reveals a major flaw in subdivision control. Once an interstate or a bypass has been built, the impetus is to build out to that ring. And, the new ordinances do nothing to control formal subdivision expansions.
However, much to their credit, the Allen County Commissioners recently approved changes in the county’s land use ordinances – as well they should. The new ordinances, which go into effect in February 2008, limit the ability of a landowner to sell property from a “root” parcel to just one split per year. The new ordinances are meant to mesh with Plan-It Allen, the new county wide comprehensive plan that is only advisory in nature and which was approved earlier this year.
The new ordinances do not stop the process of formal platting and review for housing developments or commercial property; they are meant to control those sell-offs from individuals who are selling a piece at a time. During a 10-year span, about 18,000 acres in Allen County were sold or divided without any review or formal platting. During that same period, 8,200 acres were put through a formal plat process that included staff review and board approval. Total consumption of land – 26,200 acres.
The new ordinances are a start, but they do not slow down the rampant development of housing subdivision developments and commercial developments. That would take real guts – taking on the real estate profession, the developers, and the contractors who profit from the continued sprawl into Allen County farmlands. Let’s hope that the Commissioners will wake up and see the necessity of controlling those forms of development as well as the smaller sell offs.