Carroll ranks No. 3 in U.S. for preserved farmland

January 20, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

Carroll County's cache of preserved farmland is the third largest in the nation, according to a survey by a Baltimore-area newsletter.

The survey, published in the November-December issue of Farmland Preservation Report, states that Montgomery County has preserved the most agricultural land, with 34,786 acres. Marin County, Calif., came in second with 23,224 acres, leaving Carroll County's 20,790 acres third in the nation.

"I did the ranking based on telephone interviews and documents that I have," said Deborah Bowers, publisher of the monthly newsletter in Howard County.

Only land preserved in programs specifically designed to save farmland were counted, she said.

Farms preserved under the Maryland Environmental Trust or such programs as the Carroll County Land Trust were not included because those groups also preserve land for open space or because it is environmentally sensitive.

"What this survey did was measure governmental commitment to preserving farmland," said Ms. Bowers.

She said she included land saved under Carroll County's recent program, which bought easements until the county was repaid with money from the state fund.

"Whether it is state money or county money, it is still community funding and is a measure of commitment and governmental support," she said.

In an article that accompanied the survey, Ms. Bowers qualified Montgomery County's first-place rating because most of its farmland preservation is done through the transfer of development rights rather than the purchase of easements.

Only 5,570 acres has been saved through a traditional program, in which a governmental agency buys a landowner's right to develop a property. Usually, the value of a building right is the difference between the land's value as a farm and its value as a housing development.

Under a transferable development rights program, or TDR, landowners sell their rights to build on their property to a developer. The developer then has the right to increase the housing density allowed by zoning in an area designated by the county planners.

Montgomery County's program also allows the landowner to retain one building right for each 25 acres after the transfer.

"It's not quite the same thing as buying easements," Ms. Bowers said. "I felt I had to differentiate between it and other counties that do not have that [program]."

In her mind, Carroll County has preserved the most farmland in the state, she said.

"Carroll County is doing really well," Ms. Bowers said. "They are philosophically committed to it."

She said the program's success in Carroll County can be attributed to William Powel, the county's director of agricultural land preservation.

"He's been in the program longer than anyone else," Ms. Bowers said. "He's also a farmer himself, so he knows what to look for. Carroll County is well off."

Marin County's preservation has been primarily through the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, or MALT, she said. The trust, started in 1980, has saved 23,224 acres. The trust bought its first easement in June 1986.

Other nearby localities on Ms. Bowers' top 10 list are Caroline County, with 18,000 acres of preserved farmland; Lancaster County, Pa., with 16,400 acres; Howard County, 13,915 acres; Baltimore County, 9,739 acres; Queen Anne's County, 8,869 acres; Frederick County, 8,229 acres; and Harford County, 6,935 acres.

"No locality is likely to ever rival Maryland's preserved acreage, now at more than 100,000 acres," Ms. Bowers said in her article.

"Montgomery County surpasses Massachusetts, which has protected 29,551 acres, and Vermont, which has preserved 27,422. Carroll and Caroline counties rival New Jersey, which has preserved 18,682 as of the end of September."

Within a few months, New Jersey plans to settle on an additional 3,700 acres. That will bring the state's total to 22,382 acres, she said.

Ms. Bowers, a former reporter for the Baltimore News American, began publishing her national newsletter in October 1990 after she moved from Northern Virginia to her family's Harford County farm.

She declined to reveal the circulation, but said many of her subscribers are in the mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states.

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