Sunday, November 27, 2005
Ind. Gov't. - A new look at Wayne County agricultural zoning
The Richmond Palladium-Item has a column today by Steve Higinbotham of Hagerstown, Wayne County Director of Development. He writes:
Agriculture in Wayne County has changed significantly in the past several decades. The agriculture, farms and farming -- all important economic, social and environmental resources -- have been altered to meet the ever-changing desire or need of the land seller and potential buyer.
We have all heard the buzz words concerning farmland preservation. "Smart growth," "urban sprawl" and "prime farmland" are just a few. As Wayne County's plan administrator, I have heard compelling arguments on both sides of the preservation issue, but in the final analysis, to preserve our farm ground the economic playing field must be leveled. That is, the farmer needs to be able to compete, if he or she chooses.
Government plays a role in this but that role should not inhibit the competitive enterprise system in which property is privately owned, privately managed and legally operated for a profit.
My area of responsibility with Wayne County government has placed me in a position to have some impact. We must update and revise our zoning codes so as to make it more conducive for farmers to make a living.
During this past year, I have met with my zoning counterparts in Hagerstown, Cambridge City, Centerville and Richmond, all of which have zoning control in the unincorporated area within two miles of their community's boundaries. This was important so that as those communities' zoning codes are updated, they would be written to encourage residential development in those areas.
As we update the zoning code in Wayne County government's jurisdiction, it is important to understand the changing description of the "farm." Large farms are becoming larger, the small hobby farm is becoming more prevalent and the medium-sized farm needs the ability for diversification to make an income.
When our current zoning code was written in 1968, it recognized agriculture as what you might expect. It permitted crop farming, livestock, dairies and other narrowly defined operations, for the purpose of producing a commodity for wholesale. But now in the 21st century it is vital that government recognize farming as something more and design zoning codes to recognize that fact.
The term "value-added agriculture" is the underlying theme for any potential zoning changes in our agricultural districts. Value-added agriculture is a concept of increasing the economic value and consumer appeal of an agricultural commodity.
We in the government need to be in a position to permit the farmer to have allowances to do more with the product they produce on their own property. We need to recognize that the landowner needs the flexibility to go beyond the traditional farming activities, for example, agritourism. We need to broaden our vision about agriculture and eliminate the barriers that prohibit the establishment of agricultural enterprises using tools such as agribusiness incubators and agritechnology parks.