Bill Zimmerman, a small farmer in Vancouver, Washington talks about the approaching urban growth boundary (UGB) that may soon encompass his farm. Every five years the UGB in Washington State is up for review by the county (his is in Clark county), and the UGB line keeps expanding as development pressures, and highest use principles are applied to agricultural lands that lie close to urban areas. As Zimmerman explains, to end up inside the UGB line means tighter regulations, and greater vulnerability to neighbor complaints that can end up putting farms like his out of business.
By definition, land use laws represent an attempt to properly balance a complex mix of competing private and public interests: agriculture versus commercial development, preserving open space lands versus building new homes to accommodate population growth, and zoning for residential versus industrial uses, to name but a few. As Bill Zimmerman explains in the video, it's difficult for him and his fellow farmers to make long-term investment decisions, in his case, longer than five years, because of concerns over being absorbed into the next urban growth boundary designation. Zimmerman points out, although the state of Washington has "right to farm" laws designed to protect farmers from nuisance laws who fall inside the urban boundary, in order to be protected, he would not be not allowed to change his farming operations; adding a larger tractor, or planting a different crop could jeopardize those protections. Imagine a business being told, you are free to remain in business, but you can never change!
Good agricultural soils, that is, land that is optimal for growing food, is in relative scarce supply throughout the world, and growing scarcer each passing year. According to The American Farmland Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving agricultural lands, only one-fifth of U.S. land is "high quality," and we are losing an average of "one-acre of farmland per minute."
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