Ecker seeks money for land

March 21, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

,TC The County Council will be asked tonight to approve spending 60 percent of the county's remaining farmland preservation program money to buy easements on 10 properties.

If the council agrees with County Executive Charles I. Ecker's $11.2 million request -- the first in two years -- another 1,861 rural acres would be added to the county's farmland preservation program.

Discussion of the 10 properties and the revised criteria under which their owners applied for admission to the highly successful program account for 11 of the 23 items on the agenda at a public hearing at 8 p.m. today. The program was put on hold two years ago because it was running out of money and the county wanted to make sure it was getting the best value for its dollar.

To do that, county officials changed the criteria under which properties gained admission to the program. If the council agrees that those criteria are working and agrees to buy the properties, only $7.7 million will remain in the program to buy additional easements.

So far, 13,933 acres has been preserved. If the properties under consideration tonight are included, the number will swell to 15,794 acres. The total could grow to 17,085 acres if the county uses the remaining $7.7 million to buy another 1,291 acres at $6,027 an acre, the average offered for the properties under consideration tonight.

The lull in the program was the second since 1988 when the disparity between what the county was paying for easements and what developers were paying for land was so great that it seemed unlikely the county would ever meet its goal of 20,000 acres.

To make the program more competitive, the county began offering landowners a 30-year purchase agreement that included a higher price per acre and tax-free income.

Under the current financing plan, the county withholds payment of all but a small part of the purchase price for 30 years but pays tax-free interest -- most recently 6.5 percent -- on the balance twice a year.

Landowners accepted into the program sign an easement agreeing never to develop their land. They may sell their property, but the development ban continues.

Although the average price per acre of the current batch of properties was $6,027 an acre, the county offers range from a high of $6,600 an acre to a low of $3,372 an acre. Size played a part in the new criteria. The larger the parcel, the more money paid per acre.

The Walter Beck and Fred Pipes families received the highest county bids -- the Beck family for its 723-acre Holly House Farm near Folly Quarter and Tridelphia Roads, and the Pipes family for its 148-acre Annandale Farm near Old Frederick Road and Route 32.

Albert Dorsey McCracken received the smallest offer -- $3,372- an acre for his 52-acre Honey-Do Farm near Routes 97 and 144.

In addition to the Walter Beck, Fred Pipes and Albert McCracken

submissions, the council will hear testimony tonight on seven other properties: the 155-acre Olde Home Farm owned by William and Martha Brendel; the 140-acre Woodford Farm owned by John and Susan Rhine; the 134-acre Collins Rose Hill Farm owned by Carville and Lillian Collins; the 133-acre Timberly Homestead owned by William B. Martin; the 106-acre Little House Farm owned by the William Beck family; the 93-acre Robert Inn Farm owned by Robert and Doris Bell; and the 135-acre farm near Penn Shop Road and Route 27 owned by the estate of Motie B. Cuthbertson.

The council is scheduled to vote April 4 on bills to approve the new criteria and accept the 10 properties.

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