Forced farming won’t fly 

Two years ago, when George Lake began planning his subdivision in Orchard Homes, he solicited input from neighbors. For years, farmers had used the land—all of it prime soil—to raise crops, and the neighbors didn’t want the land to go to waste under concrete. So, in his application to the city, Lake set aside 1.7 acres for agricultural land.

The stipulation left city councilors scratching their heads Monday night as well as much of last week. In fact, Ward 3 Council Member Bob Jaffe, the chairman of the Plat, Annexation and Zoning Committee, scheduled a committee hearing at 6 p.m. Monday night, an hour before the weekly council meeting, to try to resolve some of their questions. Five hours later, when the Council finally adjourned, it wasn’t much closer to the answers.

The plan for the subdivision, known as Chickasaw Place, forces the Council to address some of the most contentious issues related to zoning and development in the city. Specifically, how can the city promote smart development, yet encourage developers to preserve open space and agricultural land without hitting them in their pocket books?

The city planning staff recommends setting aside three acres of the nine-acre subdivision for agriculture, but the Council doesn’t have a mechanism to ensure that farming ever actually occurs. And designating the space as a city park wouldn’t ensure that it’s used for agriculture either.

The Council must also wrestle with the concerns of the neighbors, most of whom moved to Orchard Homes to avoid the density of the city. (Lake’s application involves annexation.) In two hours of public comment Monday night, almost everybody opposed the subdivision.

Although state law required the Council to vote on Lake’s application by Monday night, the developer granted the city a one-week extension. The Council will revisit it next week.
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