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Archive for Friday, July 30, 2004

Planning committee seeks change in rules regarding rural development

July 30, 2004

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Proposed rules for rural Douglas County development would end the so-called "five-acre exemption" and work to preserve disappearing farmland threatened by the growth of cities.

The proposal was unveiled Thursday during a meeting of the Rural Planning Subcommittee, an offshoot of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission that has been working on the rules for nearly two years.

"This is the absolute first draft," Planning Commissioner John Haase said.

The rules would impose new fees on rural construction and give local governments a stronger hand in guiding development just outside city boundaries, but leave "traditional agriculture ... substantially unregulated."

The five-acre exemption -- which allows rural property owners with five or more acres to build a single-family home on agricultural ground without going through the rezoning and platting processes -- would end. Critics have maintained it creates unplanned growth and forces costly improvements to be made when a city expands into areas where the exemption has been used.

Instead, under the proposal, rural property owners would be guaranteed the right to build on parcels of 32 acres or larger.

Rural property owners who already have five-acre parcels, though, could breathe easy. They would "grandfathered" in, and allowed to build on their land even after the new regulations take effect.

"That takes care of a lot of opposition right out of the gate," said Trudy Rice of Douglas County Extension and a member of ECO2, a group studying industrial development.

No development would be allowed on land just outside city limits until that land had been annexed.

"From the standpoint of the cities, you don't want development going on as rural development on land that you're going to annex in 10 years," Haase said.

The panel meets next at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at City Hall.

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