As Farmland Shrinks, Planners Turn To Development Rights

August 18, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

To discourage farmers from selling land to developers, county planners recommend that the county start its own program to buy developmentrights on agricultural land.

That was one of several ideas planners outlined as they explained a rural plan to the County Council in aspecial presentation Tuesday.

Michael Paone, an agricultural planner in the county Planning andZoning Department, said the county might consider paying owners of agricultural land with bonds instead of cash. Under such a bond-payment arrangement, landowners would be entitled to receive tax-exempt interest payments for 30 years -- the life of the bond. They would receive a lump payment for the full value of the land when the bond matures, Paone said.

If a landowner wanted money for the property up front, the county could sell the bond on the open market right away to meet that request, Paone said.

By buying development rights, which determine the number of houses that can be built on agriculturally zoned land, the county could preserve more farm land, said Paone.

Farmers would be less inclined to sell to developers if they were able to obtain equity from their land investment, Paone said.

A more complete rural land preservation plan will be presented to the council in December, Paone said.

He told the council other aspects of the proposal will likely include:

* A transfer of development rights program under which farmers could sell their development rights. Undercurrent agricultural zoning, landowners can build one house on every10 acres. The buyer could then transfer the purchased development rights to land he or she owns in another area of the county, where the zoning allows more intense development. Planners would designate areas of the county for "receiving" such transferred development rights.

* New zoning regulations to reduce the 2-acre minimum lot size forhouses built on agricultural land, thus allowing more clustering of houses so less land is disturbed. Health department regulations now require a 40,000-square-foot septic reserve area, which forces developers to use a minimum of 2 acres when building on agricultural land.

* Guiding development near village centers such as Churchville, Darlington, Dublin and Jarrettsville.

Council members raised no objections to Paone's proposals but questioned whether the rural plan should wait until the county has passed an adequate public facilities lawnow being drafted. Adequate public facilities laws halt development in an area if services, such as roads, schools, or water and sewer lines, cannot handle the additional demands created by more people moving into an area.

"I'm concerned about how the rural plan relates to adequate public facilities," said Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B. "The rural plan almost has to parallel the adequate

public facilities legislation."

Stoney Fraley, chief of comprehensive planning, told the council: "Adequate public facilities can move forward. They fall in sequential order. This rural policy plan lets us do the next step. Adequate public facilities would give us marks to measure by aswe develop the rural plan."

Planners started working on a rural plan months ago, said Paone, because of significant losses of agricultural land.

With developers paying $3,000 to $4,000 an acre for agriculturally zoned land in Harford, the incentive for farmers to sell is strong.

Between 1985 and 1990, about 15,000 acres of farm land in Harford County was lost to development, said Paone.

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