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Land plan to manage growth

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Open farmland is a precious feature of Miami Township, whose vast fields, streams and wooded areas many of its residents recognize as valuable and would like to keep. So they’re doing something about it by creating a land use plan for the township, which surrounds Yellow Springs, in hopes of guiding future development practices that preserve and protect its natural resources.

The Miami Township Zoning Commission met in Clifton on Tuesday, June 16, to present its ideas for a Miami Township Comprehensive Land Use Plan that has been brewing for nearly eight years. The current commission consists of eight members who have been working diligently for the past two years to create the township’s first land use policy guide. Zoning board members indicated that they have drafted about 50 percent of the land use document and that they intend to complete it by the end of this year, or early next year at the latest.

The lack of audience members did not keep zoning board chair Fred Legge and other members from speaking adamantly, and sometimes with a hint of urgency, about the importance of a land use document in helping to maintain the rural nature of Miami Township. Legge, along with board members Doug Anderson, Brian Corry, Byron Arnett, Dale Amstutz and John Struewing, who are nearly all long-time township residents and farmers, spoke about the future of the township in terms of agriculture, conservation, residential growth and growth management.

The two main goals regarding the agricultural use of land in the township are to protect the land from premature and unnecessary development and to be good stewards of the land for future generations, Anderson and Corry said. Currently 80 percent of Miami Township is comprised of class one and two soils, the type that produces the highest yields for the least amount of intervention. Once developed by residential or commercial uses, the soil is forever changed, they said.

“That’s prime agricultural land, which is the most economical to farm,” Corry said. “Once it’s gone, you don’t get it back — you can’t reclaim it.”

A current map of developed property in the township illustrates its relative natural state. Over the past 10 years the township has granted 93 permits for lot splits of 10 acres or less, 51 of those including new residences scattered throughout the township, according to information from the Greene County Building Regulation Department. If that trend continues or gets worse, in 20 years there could be over 100 new homes built like “popcorn development” throughout the township. Unchecked residential growth, zoning board members fear, will erode first the open feel of the land and then the ability to farm it effectively.

In order to support these goals, the commission recommends the creation of a conservation district in Miami Township. The new district would include the township’s flood plain and wetlands areas, the farms currently under conservation easements as well as the public parks Glen Helen, John Bryan State Park and Clifton Gorge, which cover about one third of the entire township. According to Amstutz, a conservation district would allow the township to establish wise management practices for its natural resources and focus especially on the protection of its agricultural land.

For instance, the township could encourage through official incentives that residential and potentially commercial development occur as close to the village of Yellow Springs as possible, where utility and emergency response services are most available and cost effective.

“We don’t want to see high density housing amongst the corn and beans,” Amstutz said. “We’re not going to stop development, just control how fast and where it is.”

Amstutz was quick to add that the commission members respect private property owners’ rights to operate their own land. But those rights don’t necessarily supercede the overall goal to keep the township open. Struewing also acknowledged the need to provide areas for some growth in the township. The land use plan will help guide the location of that development toward areas that already show existing patterns of development and away from areas with the best soils.

Part of the reason development in Miami Township seems unnecessary, is that there are plenty of areas for new housing and new businesses just down the road in Beavercreek and Springfield, both within about 12 miles of the township, said Stephen Anderson, executive director of the Greene County Regional Planning & Coordinating Commission. Miami Township Zoning Inspector Richard Zopf agreed.

“There are adequate industrial, commercial and residential services available in the area, and we don’t need to create more,” Zopf said.

The commissioners noted that in order to guide development toward Yellow Springs, they would have to work with Village Council on the potential for annexation and infrastructure services. But it could be to everyone’s advantage to protect the mutually valued ring of green that surrounds the village, Struewing said. And the greenbelt is as much for aesthetic value as it is for economic gain.

“Farming plays a good role in the preservation of the local economy,” Corry said. “Farming is still a significant agricultural base, and the more it’s compromised by development, the less important agriculture becomes as a way of life in the township.”

The commission presented its ideas for the land use plan at two public meetings in April and May in Yellow Springs, without much attendance, members said. They welcome input as they spend the next few months putting together a complete first draft of the plan and then a final draft, which they will present to the Miami Township Trustees and to the Greene County Regional Planning & Coordinating Commission for review and comment.

The commission intends to submit a final draft for approval by the Township trustees by the end of this year. And according to Anderson, after the Township Trustees adopt the plan at a public hearing, it will be added as an official piece of the regional land use document.

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