Preserving Rural Landscapes

Preserving Rural Landscapes

Garkovich said it is important to maintain scenic open spaces around Kentucky. These so-called “green spaces” not only enhance nearby residential properties' value, but they also contribute to the state's tourism appeal.


Rural dwellers have long maintained that their properties contribute livestock and other agricultural products to the region without taxing school, public safety, and other systems. Meanwhile, developers claim that their mindful building of planned housing developments not only raises land parcel prices, but also increases and diversifies a community's tax base. Lorraine Garkovich, PhD, professor of community and leadership development at the University of Kentucky, said that although agricultural land tracts are taxed at lower rates than residential properties, farmsincluding horse-friendly propertiesplay key roles in the environmental and economic health of counties and towns across Kentucky. As a result, it's key for communities to find ways to balance growth with the need to conserve land resources for rural use.

According to results of a University of Kentucky equine industry survey released in January 2013, 242,400 horses reside in the state. Kentucky is home to 35,000 equine operations, and more than 1 million of the state's rural acres are devoted to equine use. As a result, maintaining rural land resources make good economic sense for the state.

But maintaining the state's rural integrity is not easy. Garkovich said there are several key rural land conservation issues facing property owners and county and local governments in Kentucky and elsewhere. She said chief among those issues are protecting soil resources, sustaining and enhancing farmingincluding horse farmingas a key component of state and local economies, protecting groundwater recharge areas, maintaining scenic open spaces, and minimizing state, county, and local land use conflicts.

Garkovich said soil preservation is critical as well. Soils found in many parts of the state are highly productive for agricultural purposes. But once that resource is gone, she said, it's gone.

“Once developed by residential, commercial, or industrial uses, this productive resource is lost to agriculture forever,” Garkovich.

Likewise, the preservation of groundwater recharge areas is crucial, especially to those who raise livestock, Garkovich said. Many Kentucky families as well as public water systems depend on groundwater as their major source of drinking water, she said. But many rural homes rely on septic systems to contain waste water and those systems can fail. As a result, continued development using septic systems can threaten groundwater resources.

“Therefore, protecting areas that are critical in replenishing the groundwater source is important,” Garkovich said.

Finally, Garkovich said it is important to maintain scenic open spaces around the state. These so-called “green spaces” not only enhance nearby residential properties' value, but they also contribute to Kentucky's tourism appeal.

Maintaining Kentucky's rural resources require both private and public will. Communities might adopt zoning ordinances designed to define land use to preserve rural resources while accommodating growth derived from land development.

“Zoning ordinances may also define how development occurs within a particular zone by, for example (defining) subdivision development standards,” Garkovich said.

Communities can also adopt so-called “right to farm” ordinances. These measures make agriculture a priority so long as farmers meet best practices standards in cases of “nuisance” complaints by adjacent nonfarm property owners.

“The purpose of such ordinances is to reduce the loss of agricultural resources by clarifying the circumstances under which agricultural operations may be considered a nuisance, and to promote a good neighbor policy,” Garkovich said.

Finally, Garkovich said, farmers can contribute to rural resource preservation by working with qualified conservation organizations to restrict or prevent land development for non-rural purposes.

“In this case, the farmland owner agrees to permit the qualified conservation organization to acquire an 'interest' in their land so that non-farm development does not occur on the land,” Garkovich said. “This interest may be acquired through a sale, a grant, or by other means.”

Garkovich said when it comes to preserving rural resources communities and individual land owners have many options. Which option they choose can be in the state and community's long term best interest.

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About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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