Peoria County is in a unique position: we are home to the sixth-largest city in Illinois outside of Chicago, but our urban areas are within a stone’s throw of agricultural and woodland areas. Of our county’s 619 square miles (or 396,160 acres), about 200,000 acres are used for cultivated crops and 25,000 acres are woodland used to pasture livestock. We’re half urban, half rural.
We often tout that our county is home to a rapidly expanding healthcare economy, plus the significant manufacturing and R&D presence in the region. But just like our geography, that’s only half the story. The latest USDA Census of Agriculture listed the market value of agricultural products in Peoria County at more than $187 million. This all comes from about 900 farms, including many part-time endeavors.
When people think of agriculture, the image that often comes to mind is traditional row-crop agriculture (i.e. corn and soybeans). However, this view shortchanges the vast number of other types of agriculture present in Peoria County, including livestock, specialty crops (i.e. vegetables, fruits, herbs) and non-food crops (i.e. landscaping trees, shrubs, sod). Each plays an important role in diversifying Peoria County’s agricultural base, helping to minimize the negative effects of weather or market-induced downturns in the agricultural sector.
In 2009, the Peoria County Board adopted a Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which helps guide us when questions of development in unincorporated areas arise. An appointed Planning Commission guided the planning process, comprised of several County Board members and other citizens who represented business, parks and recreation, agriculture and the environment. The process ensured that several public hearings were conducted so that all interests could be heard.
Two of the overarching themes in the resulting plan were Smart Growth and Agricultural Preservation. The two come together when talking about urban sprawl or new economic opportunities, such as wind and solar power. This can mean evaluating where new subdivisions are planned, how current agricultural and environmental areas are developed, and how development can impact stormwater runoff and current infrastructure.
Smart Growth includes creating an opportunity for a healthy economy and business community, using fiscally sustainable growth policies. Economic vitality is a must in order to provide jobs to local residents, services and products to residents and visitors, and tax revenue to help support essential government services. The County can develop policies that promote diversity and strength in the economy, while not sacrificing other community ideals.
The Comprehensive Land Use Plan helps the board make decisions to provide a balance for development within the county. The plan’s Agricultural Preservation theme addresses the desire of the community and the board to preserve and protect agriculture—particularly prime agricultural land—for economic, cultural and community benefit. Development balance includes adhering to managed growth principles and fiscal sustainability, while still preserving prime agricultural land. If development occurs in agricultural areas, ideally it should be guided to the least productive land.
Our plan is a working document, helping guide decisions and policy to better allow the whole county to obtain planned, quality growth. The publicly driven Comprehensive Land Use Plan indicates that residents of Peoria County want our board to respect the county’s agricultural and environmental character, but want this balanced with growth from new industry and increased economic opportunity. iBi