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Land & Environmental

Down to Earth — Tecumseh Land Trust and affordable housing

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By Marianne MacQueen

Affordable housing, farmland preservation and native habitat conservation — are they mutually exclusive? Off and on there has been criticism that Tecumseh Land Trust, or TLT, has contributed to the affordable housing issue in Yellow Springs through its work in farmland and natural area preservation. I recently talked with Michele Burns, the new director of TLT, about this and TLT’s more recent work in conservation. As Michele is quick to point out, TLT is strategic about where it seeks conservation easements. It works with local communities to distinguish areas that make sense to preserve from those more suitable for development.

Tecumseh Land Trust was started in 1990 and originally focused on the preservation of areas to the west (Jacoby Greenbelt) and east (Country Commons) of Yellow Springs. After the preservation of the Whitehall Farm, however, its farmland preservation efforts really took off and TLT added Clark County to its service area in addition to Greene County. To date, TLT has preserved 34,000 acres of farmland and is one-third of the way to its goal of 100,000 acres preserved. The goal is based on a national standard set by the American Farmland Trust.
TLT is strategic in the properties it seeks to preserve. It considers the nature of the soils, waterways, natural habitats and how a property is situated in relation to other preserved (or potentially preserved) properties. It is critical to build sizable blocks of preserved farmland in order to support the businesses that serve farmers. Similarly, it is important to preserve corridors of natural areas and waterways to allow for connectivity for wildlife — both flora and fauna.

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TLT made a decision at its board meeting several years ago to increase its focus on conservation as well as preservation. Preservation of farmland alone doesn’t necessarily encourage best farming practices. With its newer focus on conservation, TLT is assisting farmers and landowners of natural areas in developing practices that enhance soils and native habitats. When farmers engage in best soil management practices there is less runoff, less disturbance of the soils and increased carbon sequestration. The latter plays a critical role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

TLT’s work on the Jacoby Greenbelt is an example of its increasing focus on conservation as well as preservation. The Jacoby Creek is important to Yellow Springs for several reasons: its characteristics as a stream; its location near the wells that supply our drinking water; and as a natural buffer to development pressure from the west. Yellow Springs is fortunate to be nestled between the subwatersheds of the Jacoby Creek and the Yellow Springs Creek. The two creeks join in the Glen to form the Little Miami River. Together they are critical to the health of our natural environment and therefore to our human community. Both are considered by the Ohio EPA to be “exceptional warm water habitats.”

The Arnovitz property along the Jacoby Creek came to auction in 2017, prompting community members to mobilize and donate funds for a conservation easement on the property. This effort, similar to the earlier Whitehall Farm preservation, resulted in Community Solutions purchasing a major portion of the property that is now the site of Agraria. TLT then applied for and received funding from the Natural Resource Conservation Service for preservation and conservation in the Jacoby Greenbelt. This has involved working with farmers and landowners to increase best soil management practices and buffer the waterway. The Village committed funds toward this project and worked with TLT to identify properties it felt were important to preserve.

TLT participated in the 2020 Yellow Springs Comprehensive Land Use Plan development. It assisted the Village in determining where it made sense to focus preservation efforts outside the village, as well as where it made sense not to do so. A critical component for this consideration is what is called the Urban Service Boundary. This boundary is defined as the furthest reach of our gravity fed sewer system. Yellow Springs has used this boundary to determine how far we might grow in the future — and we aren’t there yet. As a result of this collaboration with the Village, TLT removed one property from possibly being in the Jacoby Greenbelt because a portion of it is within our Urban Service Boundary.

I want to circle back to my original question regarding affordable housing, farmland preservation and native habitat conservation. Clearly, these are three critical issues. The lack of affordable housing in Yellow Springs is caused by a number of factors, but TLT’s farmland preservation work is not one of them. With the exception of the Glass Farm conservation area, all the land TLT has preserved is outside of the Yellow Springs Urban Service Boundary.

I would suggest that the long-time resistance to development — both housing and business — has been a main contributing factor to the lack of housing options in the village. We need to find ways to come together effectively as we grapple with how we house and feed ourselves and maintain an environment in which we can live. In future “Down to Earth” columns, we will explore ways we can and are doing this important work.

*The author is Village Council’s liaison to the Climate Action and Sustainability task force, and based the preceding text on an interview with Tecumseh Land Trust Executive Director Michele Burns.

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