Conservancy wants control of protected land in western Howard WEST COUNTY--Clarksville * Highland * Glenelg * Lisbon

January 07, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Ask residents of the western Howard County why they moved there, and most have the same answer -- to live among the wide open spaces.

What some have discovered, however, is that those spaces were also wide open to development.

The Howard County Conservancy wants to play a major role in changing that by taking control of large tracts of protected land mandated by new county regulations.

In September, County Council members approved western zoning regulations requiring developers to cluster homes on smaller sites, creating large undeveloped tracts.

To ensure that the land will remain undeveloped, the county will require landowners to put easement rights under the control of two land trusts.

"If the easement were solely to the county government, then the County Council 50 years from now could wipe it out," said James Eaker, president of the conservancy.

The county requires that developers set aside 60 percent to 80 percent of each new project's total acreage for a "preservation parcel," to be put into agricultural preservation or put under the control of two conservation groups.

The Maryland Environmental Trust, Maryland Historic Trust or any other recognized nonprofit conservation organization could control the parcels. In addition, the county government could be one of the two groups.

So far, it appears that the conservancy is the only local trust that the County Council will be asked to certify for western land preservation. The conservancy has a cooperative agreement with the Maryland Environmental Trust, which could be the second group to control conservancy easements.

Because preservationists feared future zoning changes could allow those tracts to be developed, the new regulations required the easements, safeguarding the land regardless of any change in zoning, said Donna Mennitto, a county planner.

The preservation parcel concept was written into the 1990 General Plan, a 20-year blueprint for county development.

The Howard County Citizens Association incorporated the non-profit conservancy the same year, with a mission to increase and protect open space in the county, thereby preserving farming, the environment and historic sites.

So far, the no new cluster developments have advanced far enough in the county zoning approval process to be affected by the easement regulations, but the conservancy, which is funded by donations, is working on other possible preservation projects.

In the next few months, Mr. Eacker said, the group expects to announce a preservation agreement involving more than 200 west county acres.

The group works hand-in-hand with the Maryland Environmental Trust, which is financed by the state but run by an independent board of trustees.

One of the state trustees, former state Sen. James Clark Jr., is the chairman of the Howard County Conservancy's board of trustees.

Four of the trustees, including Mr. Eacker, come from the Howard County Citizens Association. Others come from the state legislature and the development community.

That last category is troublesome to growth-control activists such as John W. Taylor, who said be believes the conservancy has "too many close ties to the development industry to be taken seriously as a land conservation organization."

But having trustees like Columbia zoning attorney Richard B. Talkin will make it easier for the group to work with the developers who will be granting easements, Mr. Eacker said.

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