Archive for Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Land use decisions often tricky

August 12, 2008


At a recent voters' forum, candidates answered a question about agricultural land use. Some of their answers reminded me of my service on Horizon 2020's land use task force when a member of the committee suggested that farmers only be allowed to sell their land to other farmers. While initially that may sound like a good idea to those who do not own the land in question, consider this: For many small farmers, like my late mother- and father-in-law, their land is their only asset. Essentially it is their 401(k).

Both of my husband's parents worked at jobs in town so they could afford to live on and farm the 158 acres that they bought after World War II and where they raised children as well as wheat and corn. More than 30 years later, the farm - once far from town - was nearer the city limits than they had ever dreamed it would be. They were no longer young, suffered ill health and had no children who wished to farm the land. But they did have a developer who eventually planned to build residences on the land.

Could they have sold their acreage to someone who would farm the land? Perhaps : at a fraction of what the developer would pay. And because the wannabe farmer had no down payment and could not obtain financing, he proposed that they carry the mortgage. Such a proposal would not have allowed them to purchase the small home in North Lawrence where they lived out their lives frugally but without financial worries. While my father-in-law survived only a couple of years after selling the farm, my mother-in-law lived in town another 30 years, happily growing a large vegetable garden, a yard full of flowers and contributing most of her resources to charities.

The late Bob Billings responsibly waited over two decades before he developed the former Goff farm where my in-laws and husband fertilized the soil with their blood, sweat and an occasional tear. You know it today as the Reserve at Alvamar, Fountain Villa Estates and the south half of Corpus Christi church.

Yes, land use is tricky. And it is the human element that makes it tricky. What seems like a good idea in the abstract often does not appear so good when one considers the impact of it on the lives of individuals.

When a young doctor moved to town and bought a home in far west Lawrence for his growing family, he told me that someone accused him of contributing to sprawl. And I replied that the person who said that was likely living in what had been a cornfield 10 years previously.

Wherever you live, the land was once prairie, forest or farmland. Think about it.

- Marsha Goff is a longtime Lawrence resident and community volunteer.


sunflower_sue 9 years, 10 months ago

While I hate to see all of the land around me developed, if (and when) we go to sell our (roughly) 1000 acres, I want every penny that I can squeeze out of it. Then I'm moving to a remote tropical island.

hipper_than_hip 9 years, 10 months ago

What about those developers who buy land at less than fair market value because they take advantage of a straw buyer with family ties to old people who don't know the value of their property?We have a large tract to sell too, but I'll be damned if I sell it to one of the local developers. We'll hire a nation-wide auction company and we too will sell it to the highest bidder. Just keep in mind that there are more developers out there than compton and schwada, and you don't have to accept their low bid.

verity 9 years, 10 months ago

Ms. Goff is correct in her thoughtful article. There are at least two sides to this issue and both sides have good points. Often laws are made that are well-intentioned and seem good at the time, but have unintended and negative consequences. More research and understanding of all sides would be helpful in all cases.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 10 months ago

"Wherever you live, the land was once prairie, forest or farmland. Think about it."All cities used to have open ditches for raw sewage, too. Eventually, it was discovered that that wasn't such a good idea. Sprawling into agricultural lands, with no thought of the downsides of such actions, has now shown itself to be a really bad idea, too, although those who profit from it still defend it all the way to the bank, to exorbitantly funding city commission campaigns (and to the jw editorial page.)

pace 9 years, 10 months ago

Well I am glad her family got the most they could by selling to a developer. It would of been a nightmare for her if that land had been left fields. I think it is bad that so much of our farmland, some of the best in the world is being converted to subdivisions. There is zoning that protects land. If you want to buy farmland and change the zoning to develop it there is a rubber stamp waiting for you at City Hall.

pace 9 years, 10 months ago

I apologize for the comment I made starting "Boy" upon reflection I find I was judgmental and unfair. For someone to sell the farm to a developer to move to town certainly does not mean they felt nothing for the land. While it is not a land use arguement it does speak to necessity and rights.

pace 9 years, 10 months ago

Boy, the land means nothing to her, once it was said that it is the way to get the most money, end of land use discussion, nothing was more important. That wasn't a complex arguement. All kinds of people have to save for retirement, some people lose everything to medical emergencies or chance or error. A lot of them don't decide that nothing else is important. Some people's legacy is, they work, invest and leave land to be protected. Those are heroes, not those who give no thought to anything but the last squeeze they can get for the soil that had served them.

gr 9 years, 10 months ago

"Then I'm moving to a remote tropical island."And we'll all move right next to ya.Then, we'll complain about new people moving in and crowding our remote tropical island.

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