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Conservation easements set to preserve Okie paradise from becoming parking lots


Carol Cole-Frowe January 21st, 2010

John D. Potts remembers when he was very young and driving in the dairy cows to be milked at the independent, family- owned Potts Dairy south of the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman."When a person grows u...

Norman-Conservation-Easement-John-Potts-190mh
John D. Potts remembers when he was very young and driving in the dairy cows to be milked at the independent, family- owned Potts Dairy south of the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman.

"When a person grows up with the land, you come to appreciate what it was," said Potts, reminiscing about the large trees and wildlife on the farm where he was born and that was purchased by his parents in 1929. "I didn't want to see concrete poured all over it."

And he won't.

A 51-acre portion of the former 190-acre Potts farm west of Chautauqua
Avenue, owned by Potts, his ex-wife Sandra Potts and his brother Andrew John Potts Jr., became the second conservation easement closed on by the Norman Area Land Conservancy, or NALC, in September 2009.

The easement came about with a federal grant courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture's Farm and Ranchland Protection Program matched with funds from the City of Norman's Greenbelt Acquisition Program. It's administered locally by the state Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Although most of the land was in the floodplain near the Canadian River that skirts Norman to the south, it was more valuable because it was zoned for single residential development instead of agricultural use.

The land will continue to be used for agricultural purposes, but it cannot be developed. It can be sold, but the easement will stay forever with the land, even long after the Potts family is gone.

"This is a huge decision for people to make because when you put an easement on your property, that's forever," said Lynne Miller Stuart, NALC chair. "They want the land protected in its natural (or undeveloped) state."

The easements not only preserve green space, but help the watersheds, protect farmland, native prairie or areas with old growth. And the owner continues to hold title to the land.

The City of Norman partnered with the NALC to help facilitate the green space preservation.
It's been about a decade since then-state Sen. Brad Henry initiated adding language to the Oklahoma statutes to allow conservation easements, although some other states have had them for more than 100 years.

A conservation management plan created by the Potts and the Natural Resources Conservation Service staff runs with the title to the property. Responsibility lies with the NALC to monitor the property annually to make sure it's being used according to the language of the conservation easement.

The easement came about from efforts over several years. Years ago, volunteer members of the NALC sent out letters to owners they thought might be interested and met with the Potts family.
The procedure takes about six to 12 months, said Miller Stuart.

"It's a fascinating process and a wonderful idea," she said.

It starts with an appraisal of the land for what it would be worth developed and undeveloped by a specially trained appraiser. The NALC's first conservation easement was 107 acres purchased from the Kuhlman family in 2002 in northeast Norman near Porter Avenue and Franklin Road. The group has two more easements in the works.

"Our hope is that after we get these other two (easements) and they are recognized, more people will think about conservation easements on their properties," Miller Stuart said.

The Edmond Land Conservancy is a volunteer organization created about five years ago, said Rand Phipps, chair of the group's board of directors. Since then, it's secured two conservation easements, partly with funds from a partnership with the City of Edmond and private funds matched with the federal grant funds. And they are working on two more easements.

"It's hard to make that case, but it's important to the community to have these green spaces," Phipps said. "It's hard to have all the stars come together to get a deal to come together."
He said in today's economy and with so many worthy causes out there, it's difficult to raise funds to help preserve those green spaces. But still, they are making progress.

"The tax aspects are a lot of times the driving force behind easements," Phipps said. The group is particularly looking to preserve what they can of undeveloped parts of Edmond, which lie east of Interstate 35.

"It's a good thing that Norman and Edmond are growing," he said. "But the bad news is that it gobbles up lots of land. We would like to preserve some."

The Land Legacy in Tulsa has been active around the state working on easements.
Some of the projects they are working on currently include areas near Spavinaw Creek and Fort Sill. Potts said he's glad his family has been able to preserve some of the family farm for the future.

"I think it will mean more later than it means now," he said.
 
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