Scio Twp Completes Unprecedented Land Preservation Project

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From Barry Lonik

Scio Township’s Land Preservation program has purchased a conservation easement on a 101.361-acre property located on the west side of Wagner Rd. south of Liberty Rd. Known as the Renz farm, it had been in that family for 100 years in 2020. Harold "Dick" Renz passed away that year and the estate applied for conservation.

The purchase price for the easement was just shy of $3 million, as the property was zoned agricultural but master-planned for one-acre housing sites. It is bordered by protected land to the south and west. Funding was provided by Scio Township's dedicated millage with support from the Ann Arbor Greenbelt program, the Washtenaw County Natural Area Preservation Program, the State of Michigan Agricultural Preservation Fund, and the federal Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. It’s the first time five cash funding sources have been tapped for a land preservation project.

The property was immediately sold to Vestergaard Farms LLC, a local livestock producer which practices rotational grazing and has plans to host a community garden and educational activities on food production at the property. The buyer was chosen through a public request for proposals, which fixed the price of the conserved land at $320,000 and sought a sustainable use for producing food for human consumption. It’s the first time such a process has been implemented. About 80 acres are currently planted in hay. Vestergaard will be moving cattle to the property later this year. The remainder of the property is woods, treelines, and farmstead.

Conservation easements are permanent deed restrictions on the use of a property. Purchasing easements costs less than buying the property, keeps the property on the tax rolls, and contributes to the local economy.

Scio Township’s dedicated land preservation millage was approved by voters in 2004 and renewed in 2012, both by large margins. With this project, the Township program has been involved in protecting 1,709 acres, with more projects set to close in the coming months.

Photos courtesy of Barry Lonik

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