Traverse City News and Events

What Is PDR? A Closer Look At The Key Ballot Proposal Facing Peninsula Township Voters

By Craig Manning | July 20, 2022

If you’ve taken a drive out on Old Mission Peninsula lately, you’ve probably seen a few signs encouraging you to “Vote Yes on PDR,” a matter that will appear on the August 2 election ballot for Peninsula Township. But what exactly is PDR, why is it on the ballot, and what implications could the forthcoming election have for Old Mission Peninsula if the PDR issue is supported or voted down? The Ticker takes a closer look.

PDR stands for “Purchase of Development Rights,” and refers to an ordinance that has been active in Peninsula Township since 1994. Essentially, PDR is a millage-funded program that enables a unit of government – in this case, Peninsula Township – to “buy” the development rights for certain properties throughout its jurisdiction. In the Old Mission community, PDR is a voluntary program under which farmers and other eligible landowners can place an easement or deed restriction on their property that permanently prevent residential development on that land. Eligible property owners can have their properties appraised by the township to determine how much more value the property would hold for a developer than for a farmer, and the PDR program then pays the difference in those values to the landowner in exchange for a deed restriction that preserves that property as farmland or open space.

Since day one, the goal of PDR in Peninsula Township has been to maintain the rural and agricultural character of the peninsula by preventing the encroachment of development pressure. John DeSpelder, a Peninsula Township resident and longtime supporter of the program – and a booster for the current “Vote Yes on PDR” effort – remembers when PDR first went into effect on the peninsula. In his view, the program has played a critical and oft-overlooked role in preventing a serious shift in the landscape of Old Mission Peninsula.

“I’ve been a resident of the area since the mid-70s, and I remember the concerns about future overdevelopment on the peninsula back then,” DeSpelder tells The Ticker. “My wife and I were living in the city – the peninsula was on our north lot line – at the time the PDR program was passed in the ‘90s. By then, it was clear that the attraction of rural life on the peninsula would likely destroy the very quality that brings people here. It was only due to the foresight of the residents of the township that the PDR program was conceived and became a reality.”

“A few days ago, I looked at a map that shows the properties that are now under PDR,” DeSpelder adds. “Wow. Without PDR the Peninsula would be thoroughly dotted with development. I’m so thankful for those people that cared enough to start PDR. Since PDR began, my wife and I have moved a short distance north, onto the peninsula. So, we became part of the developmental pressure that PDR works against. We need PDR to set boundaries, or we’ll all suffer because we can’t restrain ourselves.”

Just how much Old Mission land has the PDR program shielded from development over the past 28 years? According to Friends of Purchase of Development Rights, the citizens organization advocating for a “yes” vote on August 2, Peninsula Township’s PDR program has protected 3,291 acres of land since 1994. And according to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy – an active supporter of government PDR programs – there are currently 6,042 acres of land in Peninsula Township under some form of development protection, between PDR and several other preservation efforts. That figure equates to approximately 34 precent of the township’s total landmass, which spans 17,755 acres.

The other big question: Why is PDR back in the public conversation after all these years? In short, the money for the program has run out. While township voters approved PDR in 1994, the program is like any other millage in that it must occasionally be renewed. The most recent renewal vote occurred in 2002. Now, it’s once again time for voters to decide the fate of the program.

Per the ballot language for the renewal proposal, Peninsula Township’s PDR millage had been reduced over the years by required Headlee Amendment rollbacks, before ultimately expiring with the 2021 property tax levy. If township voters cast their ballots in favor of PDR on August 2, the millage will be restored “to its original 2 mills” – which equates to $2 per $1,000 of taxable property value – starting with the 2022 levy and running until 2041. In addition to refilling the coffers for future PDR agreements – ballot language says the millage would raise “an estimated $1,797,600 in the first year of the levy” – the millage renewal would also fund the township’s enforcement of its existing PDR protection agreements.

Most signs indicate that PDR will remain in place in Peninsula Township. In 2019, the township board launched a survey of Old Mission Peninsula residents to aid in the development of its new master plan. The survey consisted of random phone interviews with 200 township residents, as well as 3,800 postcards that were mailed out to residents to invite them to participate in an online version of the survey. Both survey groups identified “rural, quiet atmosphere” as their favorite characteristic of the township, and more than 80 percent of respondents said they wanted township officials to work toward preservation of the peninsula’s character – even if it means sacrificing economic growth. That survey also indicated strong support for the PDR program, with 62 percent of telephone interviewees and 70 percent of online survey respondents saying they would likely vote “yes” on a PDR renewal millage.

DeSpelder is hopeful those numbers hold true and that township residents turn up in support of PDR on August 2. The program, he says, is a form of stewardship that will impact not just current Old Mission Peninsula residents, but also future generations.

“There is a great lesson that we need to learn from our Odawa and Chippewa neighbors, [about how] we need to make our decisions with regard and respect for the next seven generations,” DeSpelder says. “Just as the residents of the peninsula did a generation ago [with the adoption of PDR], today, we need to continue that tradition because it will help to assure the sustainability of the wonderful place we call home.”

Pictured: Left, a map outlining Peninsula Township’s agricultural preservation area, which outlines all the land technically eligible to participate in the PDR program; right, a 2020 map of all Peninsula Township protected lands, courtesy of Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.

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