Group wants control of protected land Conservancy eyes western Howard

January 12, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Ask residents of 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, Howard 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 [Howard] county government, then the County Council 50 years from now could wipe it out," said James Eacker, president of the conservancy.

Howard 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 Howard 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 Howard 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 nonprofit 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, no new cluster developments have advanced far enough in Howard's 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 acres in western Howard.

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.

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