Township program - Formed in 1994 - researched by Anita Zurbrugg

OVERVIEW - Peninsula Township operates the most active agricultural easement program in Michigan and one of the few in the Midwest. The program was established in 1994 with a dedicated property tax rate that was nearly doubled in 2002. Easements have helped to retain a viable local agricultural economy, despite increasing residential development pressures aided by the community's attractiveness as a popular site for summer vacationers. The township is located on the Old Mission Peninsula, a scenic, narrow 17-mile-long area of 17,000 acres bisecting Lake Michigan in the northwest part of lower Michigan. The peninsula's unique microclimate and rolling terrain surrounded by Lake Michigan make it ideal for growing orchard crops and grapes. The larger area, mainly Grand Traverse County, produces almost 40 percent of nation's crop of red tart cherries.

EASEMENT ACTIVITY - 1,856 agricultural easement acres in 18 parcels: mostly cherry orchards and vineyards.
Goals: 9,200 acres by 2008.
Other Easement Programs: None.
Total Agricultural Easements in Township: 4,176 acres, including easements acquired by the state of Michigan and American Farmland Trust.

Acquisition Spending to Date: $6 million-includes direct cash purchases of $4 million and
$2 million in installment contracts.
Revenues: Property tax, Federal Farmland Protection Program, Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). Voters in November 2002, replaced the original 1.25 mill property tax with an earmarked two mill tax for 20 years (1 mill = $1 per $1,000 of taxable value).

GOVERNANCE - The elected governing body, the Township Board, oversees the easement program. The appointed Planning and Zoning Commission recommends land use policies. The Township Board also appoints the seven-member ad hoc Program Selection Committee for the PDR program, which advises the board in the selection of easement parcels.

STAFF AND OPERATING BUDGET - The township planner/zoning administrator is also the administer of the PDR program and its only staff person. Consultants are hired as needed for appraisals and legal work. No specified annual operating budget is designated for the program.

ORIGINS - In 1977, community sentiment for protecting the unique local agricultural economy generated criticism of township board rezoning actions that allowed the development of some parcels previously zoned for agriculture. The one unit per five acres zoning density was seen as inadequate for farmland protection. Pushed by citizens, the Township Board created the PDR program by ordinance in 1994. Township residents voted in the same year to approve the
1.25 mill to fund the program.

ACQUISITION PROCESS AND STRATEGY - The Township Board makes final decisions on easement acquisitions, after the Program Selection Committee reviews and prioritizes applications. The agricultural core of the township is targeted for acquisitions.
Rating of Parcels: Quantitative. Top weights are assigned to agricultural quality (suitability for red tart cherry production) and prime scenic views; lesser emphasis is given contiguity and parcel size. The scores are used to prioritize applications for funding.
Other Criteria: To be eligible for the program, parcels must be located in the 9,200-acre Agricultural Preserve Area (APA). The APA primarily contains the inland, productive soils of the peninsula most suitable for agricultural production.

CONNECTIONS TO LOCAL PLANNING AND LAND USE POLICIES - The easement program is tied directly to township zoning and planning. Acquisitions carry out the Peninsula's Master Plan, which has evolved into a complete build-out scenario. Easements are located within the 9,200 acre Agriculture Preserve Area (APA), which contains more than half of the township's 17,700 acres. When complete, the program will have placed deed restrictions on all the remaining parcels in the APA, thus covering 50 percent of the township's land area. The zoning ordinance was recently amended to accommodate vertical integration of agricultural operations to facilitate home-based businesses, and to increase farm viability and long-term farming enterprises. The township is seeking to create buffers around the APA to include agriculturally zoned areas not currently within the APA.
Zoning: The agricultural zoning density of one unit to five acres has remained the same since the early 1970s.

2000 Population: 5,265 (summer population increases by 20 percent)
1990-2000 Population Change: +1,025 residents; +23 percent

9,200 acres: 8,500 acres cropland-65 percent cherries, 35 percent grapes and other crops.
Conversion to Urban Use: The township lost 1,100 acres of agricultural land to urban uses in 1968-1989. Since the start of the easement program in 1994, only 70 cropland acres have been converted, less than 1 percent of the 1990 cropland base. (Program data)

1997 Market Value: $11.6 million Number of Farms: 413 (Grand Traverse County)
Principal Commodities: Sweet and tart cherries, and grapes


All easements acquired through the Peninsula Township program are located in the 9,200 acre Agricultural Preserve Area. On the elevated ground in the center of the peninsula, this area contains most of the township's agriculturally zoned and unique farmland. The approximately 50 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline is developed. The land between the Agricultural Preserve Area and the developed shoreline is available for future residential development. Easements cover more than one-third of the parcels in the Agricultural Preserve Area and are expected to cover most of the remaining properties by 2008.