Farmland preservation in Howard County received a boost yesterday when the owners of the 723-acre Beck family farm applied to add what would be the largest parcel in the program.
"It is absolutely the icing on the cake," said John W. Musselman, chief of the county's farmland preservation program. "It is the heart of the county's farmland," he said of the farm bordered by Folly Quarter, Triadelphia and Carroll Mill roads.
Mr. Musselman said the county could expect to pay more than $14 million over 30 years for the development rights to the Beck property.
The county's General Plan has set 30,000 acres as its goal for preserving farmland. Mr. Musselman said 12,500 acres are enrolled, and money allocated for buying development rights is expected to add 16,500 to 17,000 acres.
In addition to the Beck farm, applications for parcels totaling about 2,500 acres have been filed, he said.
The Beck farm, owned by Walter and Janet Beck and their seven children, is the site of thoroughbred race horse and beef cattle operations. The horse farm is known as Holly House Farm at Mike's Quarters.
Nearby is historic Doughoregan Manor, which at more than 2,000 acres is the county's largest operating farm.
The Becks bought the farm in 1979 after starting to farm in the Fulton area in the early 1960s, said Peter A. Beck, one of the siblings and an aide to Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th.
The family sold an option on the property about two years ago to Bowie developer Mark Vogel, who ran into financial and legal problems and did not exercise that option or options on neighboring farms.
"We have decided now to stick where we are," Mr. Beck said.
"We all feel strongly about agriculture and preserving the property, but because of so many family owners we needed to get 100 percent agreement on it," he said.
He said the financial return for selling the development rights was "a consideration, but not one of the big ones. The main consideration was that the land should be preserved so it could be farmed."
An 83-acre farm owned by attorney Thomas Lloyd on the south side of the Beck property already is enrolled in the preservation program.
The largest farm in the county's farmland preservation program is a 378-acre dairy farm off Route 108 near Columbia. The farm, owned by former state Sen. James Clark Jr., was entered in the program in 1987.
The University of Maryland once considered entering its 990-acre experimental farm off Folly Quarter and Homewood roads, near the Beckfarm, but backed off last year amid criticism that the state university stood to receive public money for its development rights.
The seven-member Agricultural Land Preservation Board will review the Beck property and make a recommendation to the county executive, who will decide whether to forward the proposal to the County Council for final action.
Mr. Musselman said that the board will meet in February or March to review the Beck farm and other parcels, and that it would be about a year before the council votes on the application.