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Growth planning outside the box


Gilmour's Rural Renewal idea may not fly, but it's well worth exploring

What's the best way to keep prime farmland from growing houses, especially when its owners may be eligible to develop their land under Measure 37? Jackson County Commissioner Dave Gilmour thinks he may have an answer: Make it easier for those owners to keep farming.

We think Gilmour may be on to something.

His plan, which he calls Rural Renewal, would temporarily tap the increased property taxes from new development on the fringes of Rogue Valley towns and cities to create a fund that would make loans to struggling farmers.

The program would work much like an urban renewal district, which uses increased property values resulting from civic improvements to pay for those improvements. But in this case, the tax money would go to keep farmers farming, putting off the day when that farmland disappears forever.

Gilmour has his eye on land local cities want to add to their urban growth boundaries ' the areas under state planning rules that can be rezoned for residential use. The county and cities have been working for several years through the Regional Problem Solving process to identify those growth areas.

Under Gilmour's plan, cities would agree to give up the first 15 years of additional property tax revenue from development on those lands. A Rural Renewal board would use the money to make loans to farmers in the valley who applied for assistance. Farmers receiving loans would have to agree to continue farming for 15 years.

— The cities would still receive any system development charges assessed on new development, and after 15 years would begin collecting the additional property taxes, too. Meanwhile, farmland outside urban boundaries would remain farmland ' a goal shared by many in Southern Oregon.

Gilmour says he's received positive reactions to the plan from city officials. His two colleagues on the board of commissioners, Jack Walker and C.W. Smith, also support the idea.

Gilmour also notes that cities can't expand their urban growth boundaries without the county's agreement. That's a hammer we'd rather not see the county use, but this plan seems to us worth exploring further.

One potential concern for cities would be that they would need to provide city services to those new developments ' services that development charges alone might not cover. There is also the issue of Ashland, which has decided to resist any expansion in favor of increasing density within its boundaries.

These concerns might doom the Rural Renewal idea, or they might be easily resolved. But the concept is worth exploring. It's the kind of creative thinking we want from elected officials ' and the kind we too seldom see.