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05-22-06 Proposing to limit loss of farmland

By Tim Cox

  Mercer County officials have scheduled a public hearing on proposed large lot division regulations that would further restrict the subdividing of large tracts of land.

  The regulations are intended to guide future growth and development and to limit the amount of prime farmland taken out of agricultural production for development purposes.

  Section 711 of the Ohio Revised Code gives counties the authority to enact subdivision regulations to control the design and construction of subdivisions. An amendment to the law passed a year ago gave counties further power to enact large lot development rules governing the development of lots up to 20 acres in size.

  A subdivision under Ohio law can be a single lot or many parcels carved from a larger piece of ground.

  Lots under five acres in size already are governed by the county's minor subdivision regulations.  The Mercer County Regional Planning Commission has been working for several months on its own draft set of large lot regulations. The proposed local rules closely mirror those adopted in other Ohio counties since the new law took effect, said Kim Everman, the county planning commission's secretary and treasurer.

  A public hearing is set for 3 p.m. June 22 in the Mercer County Commissioners office. Commissioners will have the final vote on whether the new regulations are implemented.

  County officials say they are unsure whether the proposed regulations will make a difference to many people.

  "We might have a lot of people show up or we might have none at all," Commissioner Jerry Laffin said.

  The large lot division rules set up minimum physical dimensions for newly subdivided parcels. They also prohibit flag lots, which are lots with minimal road frontage -- possibly just the width of an access drive -- that leads to a much larger tract of land off the road.

  The proposed rules do not apply to ground that is to remain farmland or that is to be used exclusively for personal recreation. All residential and and commercial lots between 5 and 20 acres would have to conform to the rules.

  As with zoning regulations, property owners could seek variances from the county Regional Planning Commission to deal with extenuating circumstances.

  The proposed rules call for all newly subdivided large lots to have at least 330 feet of continuous frontage along a public roadway. Also, the depth of a tract may not exceed three times the width of the property.

  Flag lots are generally prohibited under the proposed rules but the commission can grant a variance if the property owners demonstrates "that the land has characteristics and physical conditions that make the creation and development of a flag lot practical, reasonable and desirable."

  Even in cases where variances are granted to allow flag lots, the unusually shaped parcels must meet certain criteria. The "stem" or "flagpole" must be at least 60 feet wide and the stem portion of the lot shall not exceed 50 percent of the total acreage. Furthermore, the stem cannot exceed a half-mile in length and the stem must be owned in totality by the property owner. An easement for use of a stem is not allowed.

  Large lots that would not have to comply with the rules because of agricultural or personal recreation use would need planning commission approval if the use of the property changed in the future.

  Planning commission members also are to consider access points to the property, especially if it is along a state highway, whether the lot meets sewage regulations and other issues.

  A full copy of the five-page document is available for review at the commissioners office in the Central Services Building in Celina.


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