Development vs. Farmland

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Drive on Winnebago County’s east side or into Boone County and you'll notice sweeping changes, like prime farmland making way for strip malls and subdivisions.

Many see these changes as an opportunity for the stateline to grow, others say it could be detrimental to the agricultural community. In a Target 23 Report, Losing the Land: Halting Urban Sprawl, we take a look at the changing face of the stateline.

Some call it urban sprawl, others call it an opportunity for smart growth. Either way, there's no sign of it stopping anytime soon.

Think of the stateline area 10 or even five years ago, you may picture fields of green and six feet stalks of corn. It's a picture that can still be seen even now, but is definitely harder to find.

"We continue to lose more and more ground and ag production. At one time, it was the economic bias for our country and its still is to a larger region area,” explains Mark Williams.

As the pressure mounts to move development towards Interstate 90, counties like Boone and Winnebago are forced to make a difficult decision, save the farmland that has become a part of its identity or capitalize on residents desires for retail and residential development.

“We are going to have retail corridors, we are going to have residential corridors, our communities are going to grow,” says Williams.

But is this growth going to far? In the last 20 years, Boone County has given up eight-percent of its farmland, and Winnebago County has lost some. And it’s this desire for change that has brought with it some controversy.

“Growth is inevitable, we just want to make sure it's in the proper places. We don't want to see pop up subdivisions in the middle of prime farmland,” comments Williams

Which is why county leaders are continually developing land use plans, including Winnebago County’s Balanced Growth Plan and Boone County’s Smart Growth Program.

"Whether we talk about sustainable communities, environment, development, the point is that balanced growth is a balance between all of those,” says Becky Champion, of Boone County Farm Bureau.
But is it enough? The answer is unclear, and whether its strip malls and subdivisions that you desire, or fields of green and six feet stalks of corn, one thing is for sure, the change is coming. In fact, it's already here.