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Editorial: Land-use plan: Another step forward

Members of the committee working on a land-use plan for western Rowan County made a good move last week in removing impact fees from their proposal. For the moment, getting a viable, worthy plan in place is more important than deciding how to pay for growth. That can come later.
First, let’s reach consensus on how the county should direct growth.
This has been a frustrating process for committee members, planning staff and people following the debate. A small group has resisted all references to preserving farmland, as if the phrase alone is going to cost the county money and tie landowners’ hands. Planners are also uncomfortable with fitting the concept into a land-use plan. But talking about land use in the most rural, agricultural part of the county without making any reference to protecting farmland would be ridiculous. That is Rowan’s No. 1 land-use issue ó the main reason this steering committee was formed. Some committee members have extreme views on the issue, from banning all residential development to avoiding any kind of restriction. The challenge to the committee ó and the Planning Board and Board of Commissioners ó is to balance property rights and preservation. The easiest course is to avoid the issue and say it’s not relevant, since finding that balance looks nearly impossible.
But find it we must. North Carolina lost 5,500 farms and 300,000 acres of farmland between 2003 and 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s the equivalent of losing a county. No one is against farmers making money off their land, and residential development is a quick way to do it. But where will the nation get its food if every farmer must sell to developers in order to leave a legacy for his or her family? What will replace agriculture as North Carolina’s No. 1 industry as development turns crop fields into subdivisions?
Taxpayers should take great interest in this issue. For every dollar in taxes received from farm and forest lands, the average of services paid by government is only 34 cents ó compared to $1.15 for residential developments, according to an American Farmland Trust survey.
The steering committee is right to stand strong in the face of opposition over protecting farmland. Citizens who support the concept should speak up so commissioners know this is more the rule than the exception.

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