OCEAN CITY — Phil Snader worries that the value of his family's farmland will be reduced by a state-mandated program to control suburban sprawl.
"Our biggest concern is equity," he said. "I'm so afraid I'm not going to have loan power if I want to expand my business in the future.
"I'm also afraid about property rights. Where is it going to stop?" said Snader, who grows fruit, vegetables and grains outside New Windsor.
Farmers across the state are concerned that proposed legislation to control growth, known as the 2020 bill, will hinder their ability to farm and rob them of their equity.
Monday, the Maryland Farm Bureau updated members on its efforts to oppose the legislation during a session at its annual convention here.
Several hundred farmers, including 25 from Carroll, are attending the convention, which ends today, at The Sheraton Ocean City Resort & Conference Center.
The 2020 legislation, tabled by a legislative committee last spring for summer study, was designed to prevent further pollution of the Chesapeake Bay and save remaining open space from development.
"2020is not an environmental issue as it was disguised," said Melvin Baile Jr., a Medford grain farmer. "It is a state zoning issue."
The proposal presented to the legislative committee last spring would havegiven broad powers to the state to dictate land-use restrictions to counties.
Environmentalists generally supported the plan, meant tostrike a balance between growth and environmental needs.
"This country was founded on ownership of land," said Stephen Weber, a Baltimore County farmer and chairman of a Farm Bureau private property rights committee. "In this country, individual land ownership is an important thing."
Regulation of wetlands, critical areas and open spacehas taken away personal property rights to protect the public interest, he said.
The Farm Bureau has commissioned two studies on land use and its effects on property rights. One will survey current land-use planning in Maryland counties. Many counties have good plans already, Weber said.
The second, being conducted by Legg Mason Realty Group Inc. in Baltimore, will study the impact of growth controls on agriculture land values and land equity.
John R. Sherwood III, a vice president and technical director at Legg Mason and former state deputy planning director, said a farmer's ability to borrow money froma bank depends largely on the value of his land.
Farming is an industry, and the land, which is crucial to the industry, must be protected, he said.
Jack Miller, public affairs director for the Maryland Farm Bureau, said farmers must scrutinize closely the alternativesbeing offered to the 2020 legislation.
"We were the leading forcein last year's defeat," he said. "We have to be extremely concerned.
"There will be some type of growth controls."
The alternative being offered by the state sounds different than what was discussed last spring, but it really isn't, Miller warned.
Weber said the Farm Bureau will be host to a forum in Central Maryland in mid-February to hear from farmers, environmentalists, government planners and developers about the 2020 legislation.
"We are not afraid to discuss this issue," he said.