(Editor’s Note: Jessie Williams is a lifelong Old Mission Peninsula local, a 2022 graduate of the University of Michigan’s Program in the Environment, and an incoming law (JD) and Environmental Policy and Planning (MS) student at the University of Michigan. You can contact her at [email protected]. -jb)
Growing up on the north end of Old Mission Peninsula, the agricultural heritage of our unique home was ever present in the surrounding cherry orchards, apple trees, and vineyards. However, it was at the University of Michigan that I learned how unique it is to protect farmland as deliberately and successfully as Peninsula Township does.
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For the past eight months, the PDR program has been the center of my attention, with my University of Michigan thesis project: “Balancing Development, Agriculture, and Preservation: Evaluating the Success of the Old Mission Peninsula’s Purchase of Development Rights Program.” This April, I presented my work at this year’s UM Program in the Environment Honors Symposium, receiving high honors from faculty.
My goal with this work has been to clearly and objectively communicate the workings and effects of a well-known but little-understood piece of life on the Peninsula. My childhood home, neighboring the Dougherty House, was bordered by land under a purchase of development rights (PDR) agreement. Chances are, you live next to PDR land, too.
In my research, I’ve gotten to see, and proudly share with my university community, the success of our PDR program. In 1994, the Agricultural Preservation Area (APA) was demarcated, creating a map of where the Township desired to prioritize conservation. Out of 9,861 acres earmarked for conservation in the APA, 5,181 (52.4%) are currently under protection.
With 52.4% of our goal area protected, Peninsula Township’s PDR program is one of the top land preservation initiatives in the country. It puts us in line with Suffolk County, New York’s renowned program (51.3% preserved), and Lexington, Kentucky’s PDR initiative (61.1% preserved) — both much larger municipalities.
Additionally, in a 2008 evaluation of the program, land use scholar Tom Daniels recommended that new parcels in the PDR program border each other, to ensure continuous habitats and a lack of interspersion of agriculture with residential activity. My work found that Peninsula Township also succeeds in this area, with 92.7% of parcels in the program bordering another protected parcel.
Over the months spent working on this project, I’ve gotten to know my home township in an even more intimate light. I’ve worked with and interviewed stakeholders at Peninsula Township, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Protect the Peninsula, local farmers, winery owners, and more. And, with all involved, I’ve seen great reverence for our land.
The PDR program codifies that reverence for our land in its agricultural use. When farmers and landowners have to make a difficult choice about selling their land, the PDR program makes agriculture a more financially viable choice for them.
In my study, I found that the number-one limit on the PDR program’s success is its financial capacity. At the time of my research, the PDR purchasing process has been at a lull due to lack of funds; however, interest from willing landowners continued.
The PDR program has been an effective, nationally-renowned land preservation program, but there is more to be done to complete protection of the Agricultural Preservation Area and ensure the continuation of agriculture on our great Peninsula.
Read Jessie’s full thesis project here.