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Published: Wednesday, 1/25/2006

Fulton County: Unique plan would protect farm land


WAUSEON - A new farmland preservation tool called an Ohio Agricultural Security Area could become a first in Fulton County.

Under the program, landowners could enroll at least 500 acres of contiguous farmland for 10 years in an unincorporated area of the county into a "security area," in which farming is encouraged and the land is protected from development.

It would assemble a critical mass of land to help keep farming viable, and provide a new local tax benefit for investment in new agricultural property.

Tom VonSeggern, who lives near Delta, has submitted the first application to Fulton County commissioners and the York Township trustees, seeking their required support. He could not be reached for comment.

A public hearing on it is scheduled for 10:15 a.m. Feb. 23 in the county commissioners' board room.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture calls the security area a way for farmers, county commissioners, and township trustees to protect farmland in their communities.

The program is voluntary, respects private-property rights, is locally controlled, and isincentive-based.

If an application is approved, it serves as a commitment by local officials and the landowner that the land will remain as farmland for 10 years, said Steve Brown, Fulton County regional planning director. The permit can be renewed after the initial 10 years, he said.

Agricultural security areas are not designed to stop development but to protect farmland by creating special areas in which agriculture is encouraged and protected, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture's fact sheet on ASAs.

Mr. Brown said that Mr. VonSeggern is interested in protecting 554 acres of land in York Township. It is between Delta and Liberty Center, with much of it along State Route 109.

A couple of inquiries about the new program have been made by other farmers in the county, Mr. Brown said. "I get the sense that there will be a few more in the county."

The state's agricultural security area legislation went into effect in May, 2005. To be eligible, a farmland owner must be enrolled in the agricultural use valuation tax program and enrolled in an agricultural district, must use best-management practices, and must not have any civil or criminal actions in violation of state or federal environmental laws in the 10 years preceding the application date.

Local governments that agree to support the agricultural security area make a commitment not to initiate, approve, or finance any nonfarm development activity, such as extending water and sewer lines or building roads within the area during the 10-year period. The landowner agrees not to undertake any nonfarm development on the land. The exception is that one home per 40 acres is permitted for the landowner's relatives.

In recent years, the amount of farmland in Fulton County dropped from 218,000 acres in 1994 to 204,000 acres in 2004, according to figures from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The number of farms in the county during that period dropped from 960 to 780, but the acreage per farm increased from 227 to 262 acres.

Contact Janet Romaker

at jromaker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6006.

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