When Eric Thorsland and his family moved to a farmstead northeast of Mahomet about nine years ago, they were surrounded by one open field after another.
How things have changed.
"We are rapidly being enclosed upon by houses on 10-acre lots," he said.
Thorsland, who runs an organic farm with his wife, Lisa Haynes, said he is very much in favor of zoning rules that would limit rural developments that encroach upon farmland.
On Monday night Champaign County moved closer to preserving its farmland and protecting some of its streams after a county board committee narrowly approved a motion to release the latest draft of its zoning proposal to the public.
The Champaign County Board Environment and Land Use Committee voted 5 to 4 in favor of forwarding text amendments of the Phase One Comprehensive Zoning Review to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Phase One focuses on zoning in agricultural areas of the county.
The move clears the way for public hearings on the text amendments to be held beginning in early 2006.
"Now the public hearings can start and people can be informed on what the draft proposes," said Susan Monte, planner with the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.
Copies of the text amendments will be available on the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission's Web site (www.ccrpc.org) in upcoming - weeks. More information is also available by calling the commission at 384-3708.
The most recent draft prohibits rural planned developments on ground classified as best prime farmland. In rural planned developments, only one house is allowed per 10 acres, according to the proposal.
Regarding by-right development (when a landowner can build without going through the county for zoning approval), only one house is allowed on parcels under 40 acres, if there is no existing house already on the parcel. Farmsteads are not counted and exempt.
The draft also calls for the creation of a stream protection buffer district for areas along the county's streams where drainage districts are not located. This includes portions of the Sangamon, Salt Fork and Middle Fork rivers. The buffer begins in the center line of the stream and extends out 150 feet.
In addition, the draft proposes public resource protection buffers, which would include such places as nature preserves. Certain construction in these districts would require zoning use permits.
A handful of opponents on Monday outlined their concerns with the draft.
Andy Busch of rural Champaign was among them. The sticking point for him? That zoning infringes upon private property rights.
"And private property rights are the most critical things our nation has," he said.
Neil Malone, local government affairs director with the Illinois Association of Realtors, warned the committee that if land is taken out of development it could lead to runaway land costs in areas where development is permitted.
After the meeting, Hal Barnhart, a farmer from rural Champaign who supports farmland preservation and other measures, said he was pleased the committee forwarded the draft, even though it was a close vote. He sat on the ad hoc committee that offered recommendations for the most recent draft.
"We obviously need to get something done. Whether or not that's going to happen, I don't know. If this gets killed in the end, it's a shame," he said.
The Champaign County Board is expected to vote on the zoning amendments after the public hearings are conducted.