Farmers speak out on rural plan Next public hearing set for Tuesday

September 13, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers and Frank Lynch | Carol L. Bowers and Frank Lynch,Staff Writers

C Fred Mills of Fallston made an impassioned plea last week urging the Harford County Council to let him and other farmers decide for themselves how to use their land.

"Government should leave the farmer alone. We know what to do with our land," declared Mr. Mills, whose voice quavered with emotion at times during his testimony at a public hearing Tuesday night on a proposal that would preserve rural land by targeting development to other areas considered better-suited for the purpose.

"All my wealth is invested in my land," said Mr. Mills, explaining that he wants to be able to choose whether to farm or sell his land without government dictating under what circumstances the land could be sold or to whom it could be sold.

Others will have a chance to speak out when the public hearing resumes at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers, Level A, of the County Courthouse.

Besides the additional public testimony, the council also is expected to consider this week 13 amendments proposed by Councilwoman Susan B. Heselton, R-District A, and Councilman Philip J. Barker, D-District F.

Most of their amendments would delete provisions relating to environmental preservation of farmland, as well as regulations for construction of rural roads that require preservation of scenic vistas and "panoramic views."

Mr. Barker has said he is concerned that environmental preservation elements in the plan could "add another level of bureaucracy" to the county's growing number of environmental laws.

He also said he and Mrs. Heselton feel that road regulations should be part of the county's master road plan and not part of the rural plan.

Harford now has about 96,000 acres in rural or agricultural areas, down from149,000 acres in 1965, county statistics show.

The rural plan is aimed at preserving as much of the remaining agricultural land as possible.

To do that, the proposed law would allow rural property owners to sell rights to build houses on their land to developers who

could use those rights to build in other areas of the county.

Those rights, usually called development rights, allow one house per 10 acres in areas zoned for agricultural use.

The proposal also calls for creation of a purchase of development rights program that would permit property owners to sell their development rights to the county while agreeing to maintain the land for agricultural uses.

That part of the program, however, must also be approved by county voters, who must decide this fall whether the county can borrow money on the bond market to pay the farmers for their development rights.

A third aspect of the plan would curb sprawling development, which strains the county's ability to provide municipal services such as public water and sewer.

It would target so-called "village centers," such as Jarrettsville, for development.

Many farm owners have expressed general approval for the plan, including Deborah Bowers, who also is chairman of a group called Harford Citizens for Farmland Preservation.

"It has become common knowledge that our zoning has caused, and in fact encouraged, sprawl to overtake our rural areas," Ms. Bowers said at last week's public hearing.

"The rural plan is an attempt to make up for this ineffective zoning.

"We are eager to put land protection techniques in place."

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