Pennsylvania - LEHIGH COUNTY
Countywide program - Formed in 1989 - researched by Deborah Bowers

OVERVIEW - Most of the population pressure on Lehigh County comes through migration from the greater Philadelphia region and nearby New Jersey. The southwestern part of the county, with limestone soils, has the best farmland and is targeted for EASEMENT ACTIVITY. But this region is also affected by urban growth because of its designation in local plans as an urban development area and the extension of municipal water and sewer service. The city of Allentown, with a population of more than 100,000, is the urban core of the county. Interstate 78 links Allentown and much of the county to Newark, New Jersey, and the New York City region. When state funding became available in the late 1980s, Lehigh moved quickly to hire a full-time farmland preservation administrator and had a program underway within a year. The program is administratively housed by the conservation district.

EASEMENT ACTIVITY - 13,721 acres preserved on 150 farms. High diversity of farm operations including corn, wheat, soybeans, orchards, vineyards, Christmas trees and poultry.
Goals: In 2000 the board set a goal of preserving 30,000 acres, about one-third of remaining farmland, by 2010.
Other Easement Programs: The Wildlands Conservancy holds easements on 419 agricultural acres, all donated.
Total Agricultural Easements in County: Approximately 14,140 acres.

FUNDING
Acquisition Spending to Date: $32.8 million
Revenues: State funds ($25.4), county bonds ($7.1 million), county general appropriations (amount not available), federal funds ($283,000) and smaller amounts from conversion paybacks under the Clean and Green property tax program. Voter approved in 2002, the bonds will generate $1 million annually for 10 years.

GOVERNANCE - Overseeing the program, the nine members of the Agricultural Lands Preservation Board (ALPB) are appointed to three-year terms by the County Commissioners. The program's staff is housed by the Lehigh County Conservation District. The program administrator is a county employee who reports to the Conservation District Manager, in turn responsible to the director of the county Planning Department.

STAFF AND OPERATING BUDGET - Two full-time staff. The annual operating budget is about $280,000.

ORIGINS - In 1987, County Commissioners appointed a task force to study the potential of creating a farmland preservation program. Receiving positive signs of interest and need, the Commissioners created the ALPB in 1989 and a full-time administrator was hired. The first easements were purchased in 1990.

ACQUISITION PROCESS AND STRATEGY - After staff screening and ranking of easement applications, the ALPB reviews and decides which applications to send to the state without further action by other county officials. Because of the scoring emphasis given to agricultural soil quality, easement proposals for the southwestern part of the county-an area of prime limestone soils-consistently outrank other applications. This coincides with the ALPB's desire to protect farms in this area of the county.
Rating of Parcels: Quantitative. Offers are prioritized according to sores from a Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) formula. Agricultural Soil quality makes up 40 percent of the score; development pressure, future farming potential and cluster potential are the other major elements.
Other Criteria: Minimum state-designated criteria are size or contiguity, location in an Agricultural Security Area, soils and harvested cropland.

CONNECTIONS TO LOCAL PLANNING AND LAND USE POLICIES - The ALPB's easement acquisitions are generally guided by the General Land Use Plan map in the Comprehensive Plan for Lehigh and Northampton Counties. The stated policy is to consider this map when making decisions on easement purchases. However, the map shows the southwestern part of the county as planned for development, yet the ALPB encourages applicants from this area due to its quality agricultural soils.
Zoning: Four of the county's 13 townships have agricultural protection zoning through percent allocation-restricting development on a given parcel to 10 percent of the land area. Remaining townships have conventional large lot zoning, generally at one unit to two acres density.

DEMOGRAPHICS
2000 Population: 312,090
1990-2000 Population Change: +20,960 residents; + 7 percent

AGRICULTURAL LAND
91,629 acres
Conversion to Urban Use: Comparative conversion data not available.

OTHER AGRICULTURAL CHARACTERISTICS
1997 Market Value: $56.7 million Number of Farms: 425
Principal Commodities: Nursery products, corn, poultry


MAP NARRATIVE - EASEMENT GEOGRAPHY (PROGRAM MAP)
Most preserved farms are in the northwest part of the county, with a large concentration in Lynn Township consisting of 37 farms and 3,862 acres in several contiguous blocks. Another concentration appears in the far southwest part of the county in Lower Milford Township. Easements are generally located around the northern, western and southern rims of the county, some distance from the urban core around Allentown.

Back