Planners Denounce Farm Proposal As Stopgap Measure

January 22, 1992|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

A proposal to preserve "critical farms" from development is a temporary solution, and Carroll should explore other options, the county Planning and Zoning Commission said yesterday.

Commission members suggested that officials consider allowing farmers to transfer development rights as an alternative to selling their farms.

In the meantime, however, the commission voted to recommend to the Board of County Commissioners a "critical farms" proposal that would give the county the option to buy development rights to farms if they meet certain criteria.

"It's nothing more than a Band-Aid," said planning commission member Dennis P. Bowman, a Union Bridge dairy farmer. "It's not an answer to what the future's going to be."

The county needs an alternative to the state's agricultural land-preservation program because the state budget for buying development rights, or easements, is almost depleted.

The critical farms proposal would preserve farms that are on the market, that could be sold as part of an estate settlement, could otherwise be lost to agriculture because the owner is experiencing "extreme financial hardship," or were purchased by the owner within the last year.

The program would save "certain high-quality farms located in important areas where development shouldn't occur" because other farms are close, said William Powel, administrator of the county's Agricultural Land Preservation Program.

Three farms would qualify if the program were adopted now, and the program probably only would handle two or three farms a year, he said.

Under the proposal, the county would enter into an option contract with a landowner for six years. During that time, the owner would be required to try to sell the development rights to the state and the county would provide an interest-free loan for 75 percent of the easement value -- the difference between the property's fair marketvalue and its agricultural value.

If the easement is sold to the state, the county would be reimbursed. Money to finance the county program would come from the agriculture transfer tax, which is assessedwhen agricultural land is converted to another use.

The commissioners will schedule a hearing to get input from the public about the proposal, Powel said.

Bowman and planning commission alternate member David Duree said the county should consider a transfer of development rights, or TDR program, which would allow a landowner to preservea farm while receiving the development value for it.

For example,a developer would buy development rights for a certain number of lots from a farmer and then use those rights to increase density in a residential area.

Montgomery, Calvert and St. Mary's counties have similar TDR programs.

Carroll has the most successful farmland preservation program in the state. The county has permanently preserved 151 farms totaling 20,150 acres.

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