Freeman City Council Passes Farmland Preservation Zoning
TOWNSHIP OF FREEMAN – The Freeman City Council unanimously passed the adoption of a farmland preservation zoning plan at its Monday night meeting.
Although the three-member council championed and ultimately passed the adoption of farmland preservation, they spent the better part of an hour answering questions from citizens concerned about zoning.
“We’re here to vote for or against,” Freeman City President John Leirmo said in introducing the issue. “We followed the protocols. We had three public meetings. This has been on the agenda since last September.
Zoning creates an agricultural land preservation district, where agricultural properties are placed. A major change is that zoning requires parcels sold for residential purposes to be 20 acres or more. This differs from the current agricultural-residential zoning in place in the county.
Under Freeman’s agricultural-residential zoning, the township requires that only one acre be sold with the parcel.
As part of the farmland preservation zoning adopted at the meeting, council extended the period residents could choose not to be in the new zoning district. Initially, it was proposed that a resident opting out of farmland preservation zoning, without council approval, should have done so before Monday’s meeting.
However, by adopting farmland preservation zoning, the council extended the opt-out option without council approval for 60 days. The refusal to be placed in the farmland preservation zoning means that these landowners would remain in the city’s farm-residential zoning.
Several residents present at the meeting indicated that they refused to be placed in the Farmland Preservation District. Others explained that they could not decide. A resident, who had previously indicated that she preferred to exclude herself, was considering re-enrolling, only to ultimately decide to remain “excluded”.
It was noted that there was now a 60 day deadline for landowners to register or opt out. The extended deadline to make a decision without needing board approval seemed to defuse any tension over it.
At one point, Freeman Township Clerk Peggy Thompson helped residents better understand the situation. The clerk explained that being zoned in the Farmland Preservation District does not mean landowners are part of the state-run Farmland Preservation Program. What being in the zoning district meant was that landowners were eligible to apply for the Wisconsin Farmland Preservation Program.
At the heart of the program is a state income tax credit per acre. The rate of the tax credit is currently set at $7.50 per acre for each acre of the parcel, whether it is in agricultural production or not. The program also requires the landowner (or their agricultural tenant) to have gross agricultural sales of $6,000 in sales produced annually on the land.
In addition, the program includes requirements to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality.
Most growers or tenants should have a nutrient management plan aimed at maximizing fertilizer results, while limiting use to the lowest amount. The nutrient management plan would also indicate how manure should be spread to minimize the risk of runoff and pollution.
For a township to enact preservation zoning for farmland and allow landowners to participate in the state-run program, at least 80 percent of the land designated by the county’s Land Conservation Department as suitable for preservation zoning agricultural land should be zoned this way. .
Town Supervisor Al Thompson noted that Freeman was one of only three townships in Crawford County to have zoning. The other two, Utica and Haney, have already adopted farmland preservation zoning.
Andy Novak, a township resident and former city supervisor, asked council to consider putting the idea of adopting farmland preservation zoning to a referendum to be decided by voters.
Several members of the city council indicated that a referendum was not necessary and that the council was in its power to make the decision.
Supervisor Thompson noted, as he had at a previous meeting, that council had been considering the possibility of farmland preservation zoning for three years and had been actively considering it for three months. He also pointed out that the Freeman Planning and Zoning Committee had done a lot of work on farmland preservation zoning and that there had been three public meetings on the matter.
Despite all the work of the city council, the planning and zoning committee and others, many residents of the city still needed clarification on the project. After discussing the issue, the twenty or so residents present at the meeting seemed to come away with a better understanding of what had been adopted and their options for the future.
Extending the 60-day decision deadline to opt out of zoning without council approval also seemed to allay many concerns.