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By Lonnie Huhman,

lhuhman@thesuntimesnews.com

Scio Township knows the important role that growth in residential and business has had on it, but it remembers that open space, such as that for farming, remains a big part of who it was and still wants to be.

A recent agreement between the township and a local land owning/farming family really highlights the work the township has done toward land preservation.

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The future of the large tract of land at the northwest corner of Scio Church and Zeeb roads came into question this past year. This is when township officials really sought out what they viewed as a great opportunity.

Called the Aprill farm, after the family that has farmed it and lived there, the property for Scio officials has long been a place where a potential great conservation agreement could be reached.

Scio Township’s Land Preservation Consultant Barry Lonik described the land the best.

At 160 acres, it’s one of the largest remaining properties of its kind left in the township.

“It has a mile of paved road frontage three miles west of the Ann Arbor city boundary and two miles south of an I-94 interchange,” he said. “Almost all the soils are rated prime by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  It’s one of the few places around where one can see long distances, maybe 10 miles, as it’s atop a glacial moraine.”

Lonik said the landowner told him several times over the years that he was going to let his kids decide what to do with it once he was gone.

Mr. Aprill passed away last October, Lonik said, and it appeared the trust sought to sell the property.  There were offers from developers, but the township’s bid succeeded.

“A site plan for huge houses on five acre lots came to the township; I googled the owner and found that he had died last October,” Lonik said in late July.  “We thought it was lost until I was stacking wood at my house with a farmer neighbor who said the farmers working the ground had a lease for this growing season.  I went back to the obit, tracked down the kids and called the one whose address matched that of the property owner on the county website asking if I could make an offer to purchase.  Three days later the township board of trustees approved an amount and a few days later I met with the kids.”

Lonik said he’s, “never done that kind of sleuthing before, and Scio has not bought land not intended to be a preserve.”

But it’s such a unique property that they didn’t want to give up.

“Credit the Scio Board of Trustees with lightning fast action, voters for approving funds for conservation purchases and the Land Preservation Commission for prudent use of the funds so we had $2.3 million available for the purchase,” Lonik said.

Since the Aprill property is entirely agricultural, Lonik said the vast majority or all of it will be protected by a perpetual deed restriction called a “conservation easement” that prohibits residential development, gravel pits and other non-farm use. The plan will also be to see if it, at least a part of it, can be sold to a new owner who will have to abide by those restrictions.

Township supervisor Jack Knowles and trustee Irwin Martin, who is also on the Scio Township Land Preservation Commission, said the Aprill land agreement is a big deal for the township and they appreciate the Aprill family’s decision.

Both said the township is ecstatic about preserving such a gorgeous piece of property. They said it presents some great opportunities for longtime preservation.

The future could see at least a part of it sold or leased to a farmer, who wants to keep it farming while another piece could be used for recreational purposes, maybe a place for fields, they said. These are decisions yet to be made.

Scio Township’s land preservation program goes back to the millage that was initially funded by voters in 2004 with a ten-year millage; it passed with 75 percent support.  It was renewed in 2012 for a second 10 years with 70 percent support.

Lonik said the funds have been used to protect 1,435 acres, including three preserves. One of which, he said is the Sloan Preserve on Baker Road, which is accessible to the public, the other two are being developed with trails and parking.

He said most of the projects are conservation easements where a landowner conveys the right to develop the land for houses and other uses that destroy the conservation values (agricultural use, wildlife habitat, scenic views, etc.) in exchange for a payment, sometimes called purchase of development rights or PDR.

“The easement runs with the property in perpetuity and cannot be changed,” according to Lonik.

The township program is guided by a seven member Land Preservation Commission appointed by the Board of Trustees. Lonik said the LPC makes recommendations on where to spend township funds, for approval by the board of trustees.  About half the protected acres are in natural features: woods, wetlands and streams.

With this program, Scio has been able to leverage matching help of over $8 million of other funds, for a ratio of 1.5:1 outside dollars to those from Scio, according to Lonik.

“The Aprill Trust property presented a unique opportunity and the township board of trustees leaped at it,” Lonik said.

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