Town restores farmland preservation certification

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The town of Plymouth is back in the state’s farmland preservation tax credit program.

The Town Board Tuesday approved changes to the zoning ordinance that allows the town to be re-certified for the tax credit available to owners of designated farmland.

The town had let its certification lapse at the end of 2013 rather than go through the recertification process. But, as Town Chairman Warren Luedke explained, the town had been contacted by a number of residents after that asking the town to reinstate the program.

“It’s not a big credit but we had farmers who said why didn’t you re-certify and we didn’t have a good answer for them,” Town Attorney Jim Hughes admitted.

Tuesday’s action was the culmination of a year-long effort by the board, aided by Kevin Struck, growth management education with the University of Wisconsin- Extension, Luedke said.

“The state of Wisconsin decided to change the farmland preservation program because it wasn’t working well and in 2009 they said that everybody who wants to be in it has to re-certify,” Struck related.

That process involved rezoning roughly 180 properties in the township to conform with the new state requirements for agricultural classification, he said.

Those property owners were notified by letter in August of the pending change, Struck continued, and only seven responded asking to have their zoning not change. He said those requests could be met.

“If you did not get a letter you’re not being rezoned,” Struck told an audience of several dozen town residents at a public hearing on the changes before the Zoning Commission.

Town resident Brian Niemi expressed concern over the proposed changes.

“I don’t see preservation in here,” Niemi said of the proposed changes. “It just seems like its opening up an enormous amount of land in the township for residential language. There’s a lot of language I don’t understand and that can be interpreted differently at that time.”

“I disagree,” Struck answered. “The hurdles to rezone land out of farmland preservation are now in there and are now much more severe. This is actually much less complicated than the state model. It might still be complex but it could’ve been a lot worse.”

“The Town Board feels the new ordinance will help preserve farmland and even give some landowners an incentive to rezone into farmland preservation,” Hughes added.

Zoning Commission member Janice Abraham noted that the proposed changes had been approved by the joint planning review board of the town and the city of Plymouth.

After a unanimous favorable recommendation from the commission, the board voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance.

“We were really lucky to have Kevin work with us on this because it was really complicated,” Supervisor Roger Rortvedt stated.

“It was my pleasure. This was a great group to work with,” Struck responded.

The board also approved an ordinance to allow keeping chickens in the R-1 (single-family and twofamily) residential zone.

The ordinance is similar in some respects to one adopted several years ago by the city of Plymouth.

Plymouth City Attorney Crystal Fieber, attending the meeting on another matter, responded to a question from the board that, “As far as I know, there haven’t been any problems” with allowing chickens in residential areas in the city.

She noted that only three families had applied for permits for chickens and one of those has since moved out of the city.

Hughes explained that the ordinance requires a conditional use permit to keep chickens. A permit has to be issued by the Town Board and can be reviewed regularly by the board, which Hughes said should help preclude any abuses.

Abraham also pointed out that the town’s nuisance ordinance would also apply to those keeping chickens as well.

The board completed the removal of Short Street from the town map.

The appropriately-named street was located just off State 67 near Little Elkhart Lake but was developed according to Fieber, representing the adjoining property owners, Schwaller Family LLC.

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