Community character is a key factor residents use to select their neighborhoods; character creates a community identity and is differentiated by landscapes, streets, and people. Agricultural preservation contributes to a rural community character. One definition of rural character is: "a landscape where the predominant feature is the natural environment, such as open space, farmland, woodlands and water bodies, and the intrusion of development is minimal" (Hunterdon County, NJ, 1999). As farmland is replaced by development, rural character is disappearing across the region, which also erases the rich heritage of some communities.
| Development can affect the viability of nearby farms. The following factors were identified as some of the ways in which this happens: |
Costs and Benefits of Agricultural Land Preservation
Suburban and rural development often leads to new infrastructure and public facilities, such as roadways and schools, which can be costly for many communities according to cost of community service studies (COCS) (Edwards & Ventura, 1999). These studies were designed by the American Farmland Trust and have become a standard way of examining the costs and benefits of different land uses for planning purposes. The key cost categories of a community service study usually include: 1) public safety, 2) public works (utility), 3) transportation, and 4) education. Other important categories include culture and recreation, health and human services, and local government services.
COCS Study Results from Wisconsin
In a Cost of Community Services (COCS) study about Dane County, Wisconsin three towns were selected to represent different but common types of communities. The purpose of the study was to evaluate the fiscal impact of the town's land use decisions. The Town of Dunn had a history of strong agricultural preservation but was close to an urban fringe of Madison, the capitol city of Wisconsin. The Town of Perry was least developed and in a rural township and faced some scattered development. The Town of Westport, close to the City of Madison, continually dealt with rapid development and population growth. The study concluded that in all three towns of Dane County, "Although residential development may expand the tax base, according to the results, the tax revenue associated with the developments were offset by even larger increases in public services provided to the development" (University of Wisconsin-Madison, Aug 1999). The revenue/expenditure ratios were as follows for the three towns:
As the table shows, the agricultural-residential land has a slightly higher ratio than residential-only because agricultural land is assessed at a lower value resulting in lower tax revenue. Agricultural land-only has a much lower ratio than both residential-only and agriculture-residential because the cost of service is much less than the revenue derived from the land. The importance of this study and many other cost of community service studies is to show that diversification in land use is beneficial for many communities in relation to costs, the environment, and preservation.
COCS Study Results from Illinois
In a research study focused on the Chicago Metropolitan Area, fiscal costs and public safety risks of low-density residential development in rural areas were evaluated. The study examined the provision of public services, including emergency and education with the goal of determining if new residential development further from mature suburban developments and urban centers was a major contributing factor to higher fiscal costs. Also, response time for emergency services was measured to assess the level of risk presented.
The study results concluded that for schools, at selected homes in "early scatter sites" (new development), "two-thirds of new homes were at least three miles or more and 25% of new homes were five miles or more"; "High-school bus routes averaged 51.5 minutes round trip and 44.5 minutes for elementary routes" (Esseks, Schmidt, Sullivan, 1999). Finally, the average response to emergency medical calls was just less than 10 minutes, for fire calls it was 15 minutes, and police it was 25.3 minutes (Esseks, Schmidt, Sullivan, 1999). In comparison to selected new homes in matured scattered sites some commute and response times were similar, but "higher densities of development and tax base permitted the building of school campuses and fire/emergency medical service station at the edge of the nearby city," which was a benefit for those residents and less burdensome on surrounding communities (Esseks, Schmidt, Sullivan, 1999).
Overall, the topic of this research study coincides with the challenges that many townships and counties face when the population increases faster than resources permit to expand public services. Newer development in rural areas poses additional costs and resource constraints on the local municipalities and tax-paying residents.