Just when Harford farmers were getting excited again about a programaimed at preserving farmland, they say a state growth-control plan is emerging as a threat to the farm program.
At a meeting on land legislation issues Wednesday in Bel Air, members of the Harford agricultural community expressed interest in the Agricultural Land Preservation Program.
But they also made clear their disdain for a proposed state law -- the Maryland Growth and Chesapeake Bay Protection Act of 1991 -- that would regulate growth patterns in the counties.
"(Farmers) are really upset about it," said Don Hoopes, a farmer and president of the 900-member Harford chapter of the Farm Bureau, of the state plan.
More than 350 people attended the meeting, which was conducted at Southampton Middle School in Bel Air, said Robert Halman, an agent forthe Cooperative Extension Service.
Part of the session was devoted to an explanation of the farmland preservation program, which enables landowners to sell land development rights to the state, thus preventing development of the tract for 25 years.
The agricultural land preservation program, begun in 1977, is a state program administered by the county, said Stoney Fraley, chief of comprehensive planning for the Harford Department of Planning and Zoning.
In Harford, 123farms, totaling about 16,500 acres, are enrolled in the program, he said.
However, the group was not as receptive when state administrators took the podium to explain proposed legislation that would require counties to submit land use plans to the state for approval, Halman said.
The land use measure was drafted by the Governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region, known as the 2020 Commission because it was charged with devising a growth-management policy consistent with population projections to the year 2020.
What mostbothers farmers about the 2020 measure, said Hoopes, is that it would cut housing density -- and thus potential development rights for farmland -- from one unit per 10 acres to one per 20 acres.
Farmers say that would effectively cut equity in their land in half.
"It'slike you had a four-bedroom house worth $200,000 and the state comesin says you have to shut down two bedrooms. You're left with a two-bedroom house worth $100,000," Hoopes said.
State administrators counter that the 2020 measure would preserve hundreds of thousands of acres of farm and forest land statewide and save millions of dollars in additional public utilities by concentrating development.
But Hoopes said farmers stand to be the losers if the measure becomes law.
"The program would preserve the land but they're not doing anything to take care of the man who takes care of the land," Hoopes said.
The farming community also is concerned about the effect the 2020 measure would have on the existing farmland preservation program.
If the number of development rights were reduced, the benefits of entering the program would also decrease, said Hoopes, and the attractiveness of the program would be diminished.
"It would put (agricultural) land preservation out of business," said Hoopes, who farms 137 acres near Forest Hill.
Although the proposal is being introduced during the current session of the General Assembly, the state Farm Bureau is seeking to delay it for a year until it can be studied more carefully.
"If agriculture is Maryland's No. 1 industry, dollar for dollar, what kind of impact do you think this is going to have on Maryland's economy?" Hoopes said. "It's going to have a ripple effect."