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Freeman Town Board adopts Farmland Preservation zoning
Opt out period extended 60 days
Contour farming

FREEMAN TOWNSHIP - The Freeman Town Board unanimously passed adopting a Farmland Preservation zoning plan at their meeting Monday evening.

Although the three-member board defended and ultimately passed adopting Farmland Preservation, they spent the better part of an hour answering questions from concerned citizens about the zoning.

“We’re here to vote it up or down,” Town of Freeman Chair John Leirmo said introducing the matter. “We went  through the protocols. We’ve had three public meetings. It’s been on the agenda since last September.”

The zoning creates a Farmland Preservation District, where properties that are agricultural are placed. One major change is the zoning requires that parcels being sold for residential use are 20 acres or larger. This differs from the current agricultural-residential zoning in place in the county.

Under Freeman’s agricultural-residential zoning, the township requires just an acre be sold with the parcel.

As part of the Farmland Preservation Zoning passed at the meeting, the board extended the period residents could opt out of being in the new zoning district. Initially, it was proposed that a resident opting out of Farmland Preservation Zoning, without board approval, would’ve had to have done so by Monday’s meeting.

However, in passing the Farmland Preservation Zoning, the board extended the opt-out without board-approval option for 60 days. Opting out of being placed in Farmland Preservation zoning, means those landowners would remain in the town’s agricultural-residential zoning.

Several residents at the meeting indicated that they were opting out of being placed in Farmland Preservation District. Others explained they couldn’t decide. One resident, who had previously indicated her preference to opt out, was pondering opting back in, before finally deciding to stay ‘opted out.’

It was noted that there was now a 60-day deadline for landowners to opt in or opt out. The extended deadline for decision making without needing board approval seemed to defuse any tension about the matter.

At one point, Freeman Township Clerk Peggy Thompson helped the residents better understand the situation. The clerk explained that being zoned into the Farmland Preservation District, did not mean landowners were in the Farmland Preservation Program run by the state. What being in the zoning district meant is that landowners were eligible to apply to be in the Wisconsin Farmland Preservation Program. 

At the heart of the program is a per acre state income tax credit. The rate of the tax credit is currently set at $7.50 per acre for every acre in the parcel whether it is in agricultural production or not. The program also requires that the landowner (or their ag renter) has gross agricultural sales of $6,000 of sales annually produced on the land.

Additionally, the program has requirements aimed at reducing erosion on the land and improving water quality.

Most producers or the renters would have to have a nutrient management plan aimed at maximizing fertilizer results, while keeping the use to lowest amount. The nutrient management plan would also indicate how manure was to be spread to minimize runoff and pollution concerns.

For a township to enact Farmland Preservation Zoning and allow landowners to be able to participate in the state-run program, at least 80 percent of the land designated by the county’s land conservation department as suitable for Farmland Preservation Zoning would have to be zoned that way.

Town supervisor Al Thompson noted that Freeman was one of only three townships in Crawford County that has zoning. The other two, Utica and Haney, have already adopted Farmland Preservation Zoning.

Andy Novak, a township resident and former town supervisor, asked the board to consider putting the idea of adopting the Farmland Preservation Zoning up to a referendum to be decided by voters. 

Several members of the town board indicated a referendum was not needed and the board was within its power to make the decision.

Supervisor Thompson noted, as he had at a previous meeting, that the board had been considering the possibility of Farmland Preservation zoning for three years and had been actively looking into it for the past three months. He also pointed out the Freeman Planning and Zoning Committee had done a lot of work on Farmland Preservation Zoning and there had been three public meetings on the matter..

Despite all of the work of the town board, the planning and zoning committee and others, many town residents still needed clarification on the project.  After discussing the matter, the 20-some residents at the meeting seemed to leave with a better understanding of what was adopted and what their options were going forward.

Extending the decision deadline for 60 days for opting out of the zoning without board approval seemed to allay a lot of the concerns as well.