Harford's Planning and Zoning Department has begun the task of looking at whether Harford should allow rural landowners to sell property development rights for use on other land.
Such programs, known as transfer of development rights, or TDRs, are used in Howard, Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties.
The County Council voted, 6-1, Tuesday to direct county planners to not only look at whether Harford should establish a TDR program but also to begin developing recommendations on how such a program should work. The passed bill was introduced by Council President Jeffrey Wilson.
The study and recommendations are to be ready for the council by the summer of 1992.
TDR programs allow a property owner to sell the development rights on his property for use on another property in another section of the county that has been designated for development.
For example, agricultural land in the county is zoned to have one dwelling per 10 acres, or one development right.
Under a TDR program, someone who owned 100 acres could sell 10 development rights to a developer. The developer could use those rights to build in another designated area of the county.
The bill passed last week does not set actually up a TDR program in the county, noted William Carroll, director of planning and zoning.
"It directs us to do what, basically, we're already doing. It does not establish a transfer of development rights program."
Carroll said his department has been working on a plan to help preserve the county's rural areas. Information learned from that study will be used in the TDR study, he said.
As part of the study on a possible TDR program, Carroll said his staff also would examine traffic problems in the county.
"Under existing zoning regulations, if someone complained because he could not develop his property because the county was unwilling to change the zoning, we used to say 'Hey, that's life,' " said Carroll. "TDR tries to equalize that situation."
But the proposal has not been without controversy.
County Executive Habern W. Freeman has opposed the idea of a TDR program in Harford since it was first proposed by Wilson this summer.
Freeman has said he is concerned a TDR program would encourage development outside the designated "development envelope," a T-shaped swath of land laid out in the county's master land-use plan. The area roughly follows the major traffic routes of Interstate 95, U.S. 40 and Route 24 to Bel Air.
The county has designated that area for major development, leaving remaining land for the most part rural.
At the council meeting Tuesday, Councilman John W. Schafer, D-District C, said he was upset by language in the bill that will require the Department of Public Works to prepare an alternative road construction plan to complement a TDR program.
"I know we need a TDR bill, but I urge that no other requirements other than a time frame for a proposal to be developed be included in this bill," said Schafer, who cast the only dissenting vote. "What kind of alternative road construction plan? Should we require the TDR to be in already zoned areas? How does this fit in with the land-use plan?"
But Wilson, who introduced the legislation, assured Schafer that the piece did not set forth any requirements about what section of the county the transferred property rights could be used in.
Councilwoman Barbara A. Risacher, D-District A, said she, too, was concerned about the effects a TDR program would have unless the county reconsiders where major development should be concentrated.
"There was a certain economy to having the development envelope and focusing much of the growth during the '80s there so we could service roads and schools and libraries," said Risacher.
"It may be cost-effective, but the citizens have been saying they don't like the development envelope. But are they willing to bear the cost of the alternatives?"