The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in special session on Wednesday, June 2, 1993, at 2:00 p.m., in the Board of County Commissioner's Meeting Room, Lake County Administration Building, Tavares, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: G. Richard Swartz, Jr., Chairman; Catherine Hanson, Vice Chairman; Rhonda H. Gerber; Don Bailey; and Welton G. Cadwell. Others present were: Annette Star Lustgarten, County Attorney; Peter F. Wahl, County Manager; Ava Kronz, BCC Office Manager; and Toni M. Riggs, Deputy Clerk.
Commr. Hanson informed the Board that Mr. Claude Smoak is the Chairman of the Agriculture Advisory Committee. At this time, Mr. Smoak, along with the following Committee members, introduced themselves to the Board: Mr. Jim Simpson; Mr. Charles Hudson; Mr. Bill Duvall; and Mr. Roy Singleton. Others present included Mr. Bud Ward; Mr. Russ Geisey; Mr. Tom Wetherington; and Mr. John Whitaker.
Commr. Gerber introduced Mr. Craig Evans, Senior Associate, Program Development, American Farmland Trust, and presented an overview of his responsibilities. She stated that he is currently working in Palm Beach County where he is trying to implement a series of programs to retain agriculture in that area, and to enhance its contribution to the local economy.
Mr. Evans appeared before the Board and presented an overview of American Farmland Trust, and the programs it encourages and promotes. Mr. Evans stated that the American Farmland Trust was formed in 1980, and is a private non-profit organization, with 40 members of staff. He explained that the organization is funded through memberships (approximately 20,000 nationwide), and eight (8) percent funding comes from contracts when the organization is hired as consultants to work with the local and State governments. At this time, he discussed the Palm Beach County programs, including the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, and an Agricultural Economic Development Program.
Mr. Evans discussed the cost of community service studies that have been done by American Farmland Trust in six (6) northeastern cities. He discussed the revenue coming in through property taxes for different land uses, and costs that are required for public services. He stated that, for every dollar of tax revenue that is generated, agriculture only requires an average of 34 cents in services. Every dollar of revenue that is generated in taxes for residential uses requires an average of $1.15 in services. Mr. Evans stated that essentially agriculture is helping to subsidize part of the urban services. He discussed the series of studies that have been done, and which show a broad range of services. Mr. Evans then discussed The Economic Structure of San Joaquin County, and The Impact of Agricultural Land Displacement on County Income. Mr. Evans discussed the Purchase of Agriculture Conservation Easement program, which is one of many programs used to retain the land base.
Commr. Hanson stated that Lake County is the sixth highest agriculture producer in the State, dollar wise. She discussed her concerns, which involve the land that the State is purchasing, with many of them being the prime agricultural lands in Lake County. She questioned whether the County was trying to preserve farmland. Commr. Hanson stated that, if the State was going to buy these lands, she feels it would be much more productive for the State to buy the development rights and allow the farmer to continue to farm his land. She discussed the County taking these properties off of the tax roll, and stated that, if the agricultural land is economically productive, and is feasible for the farmer to farm, he will continue to farm. She then questioned the American Free Trade Agreement, and stated that the County needs to spend more dollars in extension and agricultural development.
Mr. Evans stated that the best way to preserve farmland is to keep it profitable, which will keep it on the open market with other land uses. Mr. Evans discussed the American Free Trade Agreement, and stated that the American Farmland Trust objects to it, because it does not have good transitions incorporated into it. Mr. Evans stated that a county, or state, or region needs to have an aggressive new market identification program, in order to stay ahead of the market. Mr. Evans reviewed the Market Identification Program that is being incorporated by the State of Vermont.
Discussion occurred regarding the profit guarantees of keeping a farmer in agriculture. Mr. Evans discussed the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) for Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement program, which is designed to retain the land. Another program helps to promote the economic development of agriculture. He stated that Florida does not have the State programs in place, but may in the future. At this time, Mr. Evans walked the Board through a scenario in Lake County where the programs would be implemented. He stated that the programs are voluntary incentive programs. He further stated that farmland in Florida has two ways of getting cash out, by getting loans against it, in terms of putting the land up for collateral, or selling it. Mr. Evans stated that there are two ways of using the transfer of development rights, one being a volunteer program where the developer works with the individual farmers, or a mandatory program. He explained the mandatory program that could be developed.
Considerable discussion occurred regarding the PDR program, which compensates farmers for the equity in their land in return for a deed restriction, which precludes use of the land for development, or non-farm uses. This provides farmers with a way to get cash out of their land without selling it for development.
Mr. Evans stated that a deed restriction is termed to be permanent, but there is a termination clause, which allows an
individual, under specific terms, to go to a court and have it reviewed.
It was noted that information had been supplied to the Board entitled "Summary of Ideas Generated by Craig Evans for June 8 Economic Summit".
Commr. Hanson stated that, before she would want to consider PDRs, she would want to make sure the County was doing all it could to encourage agriculture at the regulation level.
Mr. Claude Smoak, South Lake County, and a member of the Agriculture Committee, appeared before the Board to discuss agricultural lands, and the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR). Mr. Smoak stated that Lake County has the highest percentage of the recharge land in the entire State of Florida that feeds the Floridian aquifer. He stated that there is a great interest being shown in the wetlands where there is very low recharge. Mr. Smoak further stated that the County is destroying, through the Comprehensive Plan, recharge capabilities that provide water to 70% of the people in the State of Florida. Mr. Smoak stated that a program, such as the one described by Mr. Evans, could be formulated and developed that would serve a tremendous public benefit in Lake County through the preservation of recharge lands coupled with an agricultural use; through the preservation of open space coupled with an agricultural use; and through the preservation of the wetlands coupled with an agricultural use. He then discussed the funding of the idea, and stated that he feels the legislators in Tallahassee are uninformed about the value of the uplands areas in Marion, Lake and Polk Counties, which are the recharge areas for the State. Mr. Smoak stated that he feels the program being presented today is one that those in agriculture should consider, and it is a partnership arrangement that should work with the Board of County Commissioners. He stated that he feels this is a good opportunity for the agriculture community. Mr. Smoak discussed the costs associated with planting and growing
citrus today. Mr. Smoak stated that the County is destroying the recharge area by government forcing high density development on the most critical lands. He stated that the Agriculture Committee would be happy to work with Mr. Evans and the Board to try and develop some type of process that may work in this County.
Mr. C. A. Vaughn, Eustis, appeared before the Board and questioned the affect that a death of an individual would have on property owned by the older farmers. Mr. Evans presented an explanation as to the tax advantages in terms of agriculture estate.
Commr. Swartz noted that Mr. Gene Caputo, representative of the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD), was present in the audience, along with Mr. Will Davis, Director of the Lake County Water Authority.
Commr. Hanson stated that she feels the PDRs would work better than the TDRs, and she explained the reasons for this. She stated that the Comprehensive Plan asks that the Advisory Committee look at PDRs to promote agriculture.
Commr. Gerber stated that another advantage to the program is the idea of increasing the availability of local produce for local consumers.
Mr. Jim Simpson, Mount Dora, appeared before the Board and stated that there used to be 140,000 acres of citrus in Lake County, and there are only 20,000 acres now. He stated that the economics indicate that this number will not increase dramatically, and that citrus is expanding and becoming safer to grow in other areas of the State, even though Lake County has the water. He discussed the possibility of the County growing various other produce on the soils, but that he felt the environmentalists would not favor the increase in pesticide usage in the high recharge areas.
Commr. Bailey discussed the Comprehensive Plan and stated that he feels it has hurt a lot of the landowners, as far as their
property value is concerned. He questioned Lake County targeting an area to do the program.
Mr. Evans recommended that, before the program is established, a point system be established where points are assigned to the very basic public benefit values of the land. He explained in more detail the system that he was recommending.
Commr. Bailey stated that he was still concerned with property, such as in the Green Swamp area, that has already been devalued, and the availability of such programs after the fact.
Commr. Hanson indicated that, if the State would buy just the Development Rights on the lands that are being purchased at the State level, this would enable the State to spread monies further to buying Development Rights on more lands, and which would allow care for the land.
Commr. Cadwell stated that he would like the information presented today to be taken back to the Agriculture Committee by Commr. Hanson.
Commr. Hanson stated that the Agriculture Committee is looking at the new regulations, but it has not gone back and reviewed what the regulations are doing to agriculture.
Commr. Swartz extended his appreciation to Commr. Gerber for inviting Mr. Evans to speak before the Board, and to the members of the Agriculture Committee and the Natural Resources Advisory Committee for being here today.
Commr. Swartz commented on the Comprehensive Plan established by the County, and stated that he had opposed the action taken by the County, because it was placing an unfair burden on a number of people who owned land that was being put into land use categories that severely restricted the use of that land, and it was being done to either protect wetland type water resources, environmental areas, or wildlife. He stated that the Land Use Map constricted many of the uses that existed, and that there is a way to bring equity to those people. Commr. Swartz stated that the Purchase of
Development Rights (PDR) is one of those ways, but this program alone in Lake County will not accomplish what the County needs from either side of the perspective, environmental, or the use of the land. He discussed the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR), and commented on the results that have transpired from the County drawing lines on a Land Use Map. Commr. Swartz stated that he would like the Agriculture Committee to look at not only PDRs, but TDRs, and aggressively go towards a program that includes both.
Commr. Hanson stated that she has seen what has happened in the Wekiva Basin where TDRs were put in place by this Commission, and the only ones transferred were the ones where there was common ownership between the selling party and the buying party. She questioned how the County can put a financial value on an individual's property in the Wekiva Basin, and on what he has lost, when the property was reduced from one (1) unit per five (5) acres to one (1) unit per 40 acres.
Commr. Swartz explained that the person in the Wekiva Basin that had one (1) unit per five (5) acres, and now has one (1) unit per 40 acres, should be able to sell the development rights for the difference between the two, and the person that is developing ought to have to buy them. He further stated that, as long as the County gives away zoning, TDRs will not work.
Commr. Hanson stated that there has to be a demand for development rights, and it needs to be a free market. After further discussion, she stated that the Agriculture Committee would look at both TDRs and PDRs.
Commr. Swartz discussed problems that have occurred over the past when residential zoning was mixed with agricultural zoning. He stated that the money the County spends with the Economic Development Commission of Mid-Florida, approximately $125,000 a year, may be spent more profitably trying to encourage in Lake County that which would be helpful to the County and the people, which could possibly be trying to do some of these programs with
the agricultural community. He stated that the County should look at a land acquisition program that the people of Lake County might support, which would provide the money for these types of programs. He stated to the Agriculture Committee, not only can the Board be supportive of getting people like Mr. Evans, but also getting someone from Montgomery County, Maryland, to tell Lake County what works. He challenged the Agriculture Committee, along with the Natural Resources Advisory Committee, to seriously consider these things, and that he supports bringing the resources in to expose the Board of the things that do work, in order to start doing the things that will resolve some of the problems that the Comprehensive Plan has caused.
Commr. Hanson stated that, before looking at a countywide program, the County needs to decide what to do with the TDRs in the Wekiva Basin. She further stated that one of the reasons that the programs work in Montgomery County is because of its proximity to Washington D.C.
Mr. Evans stated that there are six (6) criteria in place that are determining factors for the programs, which he reviewed with the Board.
Commr. Hanson stated that, if the TDRs and PDRs were put into place in the early 1980's, they would have been more successful, because the lands were already in agriculture, and the people wanted to stay in agriculture. The reason the County had so much difficulty with the Comprehensive Plan, and so much controversy, was because of the freezes, and the landowners no longer had a use for their land, and there are not a lot of viable alternatives in agriculture land.
Commr. Swartz stated that the County stands in a position to assist Mr. Evans in bringing to the County the necessary resources to expose ideas.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting adjourned at 3:48 p.m.
G. RICHARD SWARTZ, JR., CHAIRMAN
JAMES C. WATKINS, CLERK