Area land owners could soon be eligible for additional tax credits.
Waupaca County is currently updating its farmland preservation ordinance.
The existing Waupaca County Farmland Preservation Plan was originally adopted in 1981 and is scheduled to expire in 2014. The existing plan has become significantly outdated and does not reflect existing land use patterns and state requirements.
The goal is to have a new Farmland Preservation Plan in place by 2013. It would be an amendment to the county's Comprehensive Plan, which was approved Sept. 18, 2007.
The county held informational meetings at the courthouse and at Union Town Hall. Waupaca County Planner Melinda Osterberg and Brian Haase, conservationist with the Waupaca County Land and Water Conservation Department, spoke at the meetings.
"There have been numerous changes at the state level that have increased the incentive for participation in Farmland Preservation," Osterberg said.
"The state no longer wants to do Farmland Preservation zoning on a contract basis," Haase said.
In 2009, Wisconsin enacted the Working Lands legislation that was comprised of three main components: Farmland Preservation Program, Agricultural Enterprise Area (AEA) Program, and the Purchase of Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (PACE).
The Working Lands law contained significant alterations to the Farmland Preservation Program, including greater tax incentives for participation, plus a greater array of allowed uses within Farmland Preservation areas.
Additionally, the Working Lands law eliminated the ability of an individual property owner to sign an agreement with the state to preserve farmland. These individual agreements cannot be renewed and after expiration property owners will no longer be able to receive associated tax credits.
Without a Farmland Preservation Plan, Waupaca County could not participate in state agricultural programs.
Waupaca County townships that have not created Farmland Preservation maps are Dupont, Farmington, Iola, Larrabee, Dayton, Matteson, St. Lawrence, Mukwa, Lebanon, Waupaca, Royalton, Weyauwega, Caledonia and Fremont.
If these townships choose to participate in Farmland Preservation, they will need to make changes to their Comprehensive Plans in order to meet the state standards for Farmland Preservation mapping.
A countywide committee will be formed to review consistency across boundaries. Each participating township will designate a representative to the committee.
The next step is to hold cluster meetings before approving the countywide plan.
"It's intended to be a bottom-up process, just like the Comprehensive Planning," Osterberg said.
For more information, visit www.co.waupaca.wi.us and click on Farmland Preservation Plan.
Questions and answers
Osterberg and Haase answered questions from several participants at the March 28 meeting at the Union Town Hall.
Q: What is the catch?
A: Landowners claiming a Farmland Preservation credit must be issued a Certification of Conservation Compliance by the Land & Water Conservation Department. In order to receive a Compliance Certificate, the landowner must be in compliance with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources performance standards.
Conditions include having a nutrient management plan, no overflow of manure storage facilities, and no unlimited access by livestock to state waters.
Q: What is the bad news?
According to Osterberg, the state only wants large contiguous areas to participate in the Farmland Preservation Plan. Also, zoning cannot be based on landowner preference and the zoning must be applied throughout the county.
The county's plan can be rejected if it doesn't meet specified criteria, Osterberg explained. The Farmland Preservation zoning must correspond to each township's Comprehensive Plan.
The good news, she said, is that the broad range of land use can now include forestry, wetlands, less productive agriculture land, and floodplains.
Q: Can individual landowners apply for tax credits?
A: No. Applications for tax credits can only come from a cooperating entity such as Waupaca County.
Once the county has a Farmland Preservation Plan that is approved by the state, landowners can receive $5-$10 in tax credits.
Q: Will zoning maps change?
A: "The 1981 maps were owner preference," Haase said, "so you will see a lot less zoning districts."
Q: Are there any negative reasons not to participate?
A: "The main reason may be limited residential development," Osterberg said. "Mentally, it limits people's ability to do what they want with their land."
Non-farm residential use is permitted in Farmland Preservation zoning districts at a density of one dwelling unit per 20 acres. Subdivision development is not allowed.
However, a variety of resource based land uses are allowed in farmland preservation areas (agriculture or forestry related use is a permitted or conditional use), and the jurisdiction sets the minimum lot size.
Q: So we can't have five-acre lots?
A: Yes, as long as the limits per 20 acres are followed. Townships can increase, but not decrease the limit.
Q: Will the whole county be out if not every township participates?
A: No. Nonparticipating towns would be listed as places for potential residential development.
Q: Can there be a transfer of development rights?
A: "No, not right now. But we're working on it," Osterberg replied.
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