Sea of Concrete





Sea of Concrete

While driving through Kansas on Highway 54 and looking at the beautifully green farmland rolling along for miles, it is hard to believe that in many places it is being destroyed by urban sprawl, until you get within 15 miles of Witchita and see where it has happened. Since the early 1980’s, over 4 million acres of farmland have been consumed by urban sprawl (“Farming”1). Despite the fact that such a large amount of farmland has been lost, Edward L. Hudgins, Editor of Regulation magazine and Director of Regulatory Studies at the CATO Institute, believes:
Whatever your preference, it should be none of the government’s business nor the business of your fellow citizens. Ideally you should live where and as you wish, and leave others to do the same. (Cooper 881b)
Apparently, Mr. Hudgins has not yet been informed that this is not an ideal world; this is a world where greedy, irresponsible land developers build subdivisions and never once think or care about how it affects the land. This disrespect for the land is what has forced the government and “fellow citizens”, in the form of preservation organizations, to use tools such as land trusts, protective zoning and tax breaks to protect greatly needed farmland; because without their help, it would become extinct.
Many people have reacted to the ever-growing threat of urban sprawl by joining together and forming farmland trusts (organizations that work to protect farmlands through conservation easements, education and assisting government in creating public policies). Conservation easements give the farmer monetary compensation in exchange for restricting future land development of his property; this program is based on the idea that a land owner has a number of rights to that land, one of them being the choice of how to use that land. Once a land trust organization purchases the
agricultural conservation easement of a piece of property, that organization then has the right to restrict future land uses that may affect future agricultural use (“Purchase”1). The purchase of conservation easements is an effective tool that is also used by organizations attempting to protect ranchland and open space (Cooper871inb). A second tool used by land trusts, education, attempts to make the public aware of how urban sprawl is threatening farmland and why this threat must be stopped (“About”1). The last, and most important, way these organizations are protecting endangered farmland is by working with the government at all levels to form public policies dealing with the problems the farmers and farmland of this country are facing. Without the help of these organizations the average farmer would be powerless against wealthy land developers.
Like many farmers, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., is against federal tax policies that are causing people to move out of cities and in turn “putting unnecessary and unwanted developmental pressure on farm and forest lands” (Cooper874a). Luckily, for farmers, state governments have enacted tax policies, known as differential assessments and circuit breakers, which are used to help make farming more economically feasible (Differential1). The differential assessment policy, which is considered to be the most important, allows farmers to pay land taxes based on it’s agricultural value rather than on it’s fair market value (the price a potential buyer would pay for the land) (Differential1). The circuit breaker tax program, which is currently used only in Michigan, New York and Wisconsin, gives farmers credit toward their state taxes for the local property taxes they pay; this program would also help farmers in western states and should be considered by those state governments (Differential1). These tax programs lower the operating expenses of farms, and therefore, help farmers to stay in business. Although they help, these programs do not provide farmers with long-term protection against the increasing pressures of urban sprawl (Differential2).
Local governments are also providing needed protection devices, such as protective zoning and urban growth boundaries, to minimize the affect of urban sprawl on farmland. Agricultural protection zoning is the act in which counties and municipalities allocate areas of land where farming is encouraged and all other types of land use are discouraged through the use of minimum lot size and maximum density laws (Agricultural1). A second way local government can fight urban sprawl is by setting up an urban growth boundary, which is nothing more than