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Council moves towards funding Jacoby easement

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At its Feb. 16 meeting, Village Council took a first step toward using Village greenbelt funds to conserve two pieces of farmland considered critical by Tecumseh Land Trust, or TLT. One of the properties is the first piece of the Jacoby greenbelt to be officially preserved as farmland.

The two properties are the 225-acre Fulton farm, formerly owned by the Fogg family, that fronts on Fairfield Pike, and the 171-acre Semler farm, which is located on the edge of the Jacoby greenbelt west of the village. The farm contains the headwaters of the Jacoby creek.

Council directed staff to write a resolution to use $211,950 of greenbelt funds to pay for the easements, which will be submitted to the upcoming March round of the federal Farm and Ranch Protection Program grants, according to TLT director Krista Magaw at the meeting. Council will vote on the resolution at its March 1 meeting. However, Magaw also said that it’s likely that TLT leaders, who will meet soon, will donate the $20,000 they have accumulated in their 1 Percent for Green Space fund to the effort, so that the Village contribution would be $191,950.

Currently, the Village greenbelt fund has $237,000 in its coffers.

The Semler property, in particular, is significant because it’s the first actual section of the Jacoby greenbelt to be permanently preserved, according to longtime villager Ilse Tebbetts, who said she had been active in green space preservation for 35 years.

“Now is the opportunity,” Tebbetts said, regarding preserving the Semler property.

While village leaders targeted the Jacoby greenbelt on the town’s western edge as critical to preservation efforts decades ago, Jacoby properties have not actually been legally protected with conservation easements. At an earlier Council meeting, Magaw stated that TLT is in conversation with several Jacoby farm owners, and that some may be interested in securing easements for their land in the near future.

Also speaking in favor of the Semler farm easement was Village Assistant Planner Ed Amrhein, a Miami Township resident. The Semler land is one of only three remaining dairy farms in Greene County, and its location at the head of the Jacoby creek makes it a significant factor in future efforts to maintain water quality.

“This is definitely in the best interest of the village,” Amrhein said.

While it’s not in the Jacoby greenbelt, the Fulton/Fogg property is significant in that it’s the only non-protected farmland in the midst of a block of protected land northwest of the village. TLT has made blocks of preserved land a priority, Magaw said at Council’s last meeting.

According to a new component in the FRPP program, the federal government pays 50 percent of the easement costs if a local match of 20 percent is provided, and the landowners agree to donate the remaining 30 percent of the value, according to Magaw, who said the Semler and Fulton families have both stated willingness to do so.

The Fulton farm is valued at $3,000 per acre, and the Village match would be $135,000. The Semler property, valued at $2,250 per acre, would have a Village match of $76,950, according to Magaw.

While Council members voted in favor of creating a resolution to use the greenbelt funds to preserve the properties, Karen Wintrow expressed concern that, while these properties seem appropriate ones for conservation, Council is limited in the number of properties it can conserve with Village funds. A coordinated effort with the Miami Township Trustees for farmland preservation is needed, she said.

“We have to be working together with the Trustees and have a strategy,” she said. “The Village can’t afford to buy all the easements in Jacoby.”

Magaw also encouraged Council to begin working strategically with the Trustees. Until Council in the past two years began replenishing the greenbelt fund, the fund had been largely depleted since a significant amount went to preserving Whitehall farm in 1999. In the intervening time, the Trustees have begun a program of providing up to $103,000 a year in greenbelt preservation funds for Miami Township, funded by estate tax revenues, and has successfully preserved several properties. Magaw had encouraged Council to establish a similar program so that TLT could have more information for planning.

“The more definitive we can be in telling farmers what we can do, the more helpful we can be,” she said. “We hope the Village can formulate a predictable policy so we know what we’re working with.”

While she supports green space preservation, Council must at the same time move ahead with addressing the issue of affordability in the village, Council President Judith Hempfling said, emphasizing that actions to address green space preservation must go hand in hand with actions to address affordable housing.

“These two committments have to go together,” Hempfling said. “Otherwise, we become an expensive and elite town.”

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