Ecker proposes tightening farm preservation criteria

January 27, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker sent the County Council legislation this week that would tighten the criteria for admission to the county's farmland preservation program and set a maximum price for easements of $6,600 an acre.

The program has been on hold since last January, when the council approved $2 million for easements on 353 acres. Property owners who sell easements to the county agree to keep their land free from development.

When the program was halted, 30 property owners were awaiting admission to the program. All will have to apply anew.

Council members wanted stiffer criteria because of their concern that the program would run out of money before the county could get the best of the remaining undeveloped properties into the program.

To accomplish that, the administration has proposed tough new guidelines. Isolated parcels -- those not contiguous to parks, watersheds or property already preserved -- must now be 100 acres or more. The county used to accept parcels of 50 acres or more.

The property must be capable of being subdivided and developed at a greater residential density than currently exists. Council members had expressed concern that the program might, in some instances, be paying to preserve parcels that would never be developed anyway.

The property must have good soil and a water and soil conservation plan. Although those criteria were implied in the earlier legislation, they are spelled out in detail in the 17-page rewrite of the law that will come before the council Monday night.

One of the biggest changes would be the adoption of a funding formula that the council would amend annually.

The formula is based on a point system that rewards property owners who have large parcels with good road frontage.

The formula would allow the preservation board to rank properties in order of preference and bid on the best properties first. Under the formula proposed this year, the maximum the county would pay for its best piece of property would be $6,600 an acre.

The method of payment would not change.

The county would still purchase properties on an installment plan that calls for the county to pay tax-free interest and a small portion of the principal twice a year for 30 years. Most of the principal would be paid in a final balloon payment.

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