Plan makes conserving land easier

Published: Friday, February 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 11:13 p.m.

Some rural landowners will be able to earn money and keep their land for farming or conservation under a new program that got initial approval by the Alachua County Commission Thursday.

Once all the steps are taken, the county will establish a program that works this way: Say there are two landowners, each with a parcel of land in different parts of the county. One landowner's property is an area prime for conservation, the other landowner's property is prime for development. Under the program, the landowner with land prime for preservation will sell his or her rights to develop that land in return for keeping it in agriculture or conservation. The landowner with land prime for development will pay the other landowner and will then be allowed to build at a higher density on his or her own land elsewhere in the county.

County officials and supporters of the program believe it is a market-driven way to ensure land conservation at a time of shrinking tax money for government to buy the land outright, particularly after voters statewide approved a tax-cut referendum Tuesday.

"We all know what happened during the election this week, where we are going to be facing budget issues over the next few years. There is no money left in Alachua County Forever and there isn't going to be additional money in Florida Forever," said attorney Clay Henderson, who represents Plum Creek Timber, a major county landowner.

"If we are interested in trying to do conservation on a large scale, we will have to figure out incentives to work with and let the private landowners do it. It is going to be the reality for the next several years."

The program is designed to protect the county's environmental resources and promote viable agriculture and the rural landscape by concentrating development in more suitable areas.

Qualifications will be created for both the land to be conserved and the land that will be more intensely developed.

For instance, the seller's land must be at least 160 acres, though smaller parcels will be considered if they are especially valuable environmentally. Some limited use of the land will still be allowed.

The land owned by the buyer of the development rights must be in a more urban or suburban area. In return for buying the rights, he can develop more intensely than would otherwise be allowed.

Commissioners Rodney Long, Mike Byerly and Lee Pinkoson - the only ones at the meeting - gave approval to the creation of a program with more details to be worked out.

The program will eventually be implemented through the county's comprehensive plan.

Cindy Swirko can be reached at 352-374-5024 or swirkoc@

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