Farmland set to be preserved

March 22, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

Howard County's newly revised farmland preservation program won accolades from the County Council last night.

"I'm very pleased" with the size of the 10 properties seeking admission to the program, Councilman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, said.

Two years ago, Mr. Farragut had complained that the county was not getting the best value for its dollar when buying easements that would keep rural western county properties free from development.

Many of the parcels coming into the program were too small, Mr. Farragut said at the time, and were disconnected from other properties already in the program.

The newest batch -- 10 properties totaling 1,861 acres -- answers both of his concerns, he said. The properties themselves are larger and are adjacent to other undeveloped properties. The end result, Mr. Farragut said, is that the county will have several stretches of a thousand acres or more of undeveloped land for generations to come.

Former State Senate President James Clark, a Howard County farmer who put his holdings into the preservation program several years ago, told the council his only regret was that the county couldn't have done more sooner.

If the council votes as expected April 4 to pay the $11.2 million asking price for the 10 properties, the county will have kept 15,794 rural acres out of development.

The payment will leave a balance of about $7.5 million in the preservation fund. That is enough to buy easements on another 1,291 acres of land, assuming the average price will be the same as for the current batch, $6,027 an acre.

When the program is brought to a close next year, the county should have preserved more than 17,000 of the 20,000 rural acres it set as its goal when the program began.

"It's a great thing for the quality of life of those who come after us," Mr. Clark told the council.

Mr. Clark was one of the last to enter the program before the rules were changed dramatically in 1988. In that year, the program ground to a virtual halt with only one applicant. Only 7,218 acres had been preserved.

The county came up with a new pricing formula whereby it offered landowners nearly half of what they could get from developers. Rather than pay the price at settlement, however, the county would instead defer payment of the full price for 30 years. What landowners would receive instead was tax-free interest on the purchase price twice a year.

Two years ago, when owners of parcels of less than 50 acres were seeking admission to the program, council members balked. So much so, that Darrel Drown, R-2nd, for example, called it "welfare for farmers."

Last night, he said that was the "wrong term" and pronounced the revised criteria "a great deal for Howard County and for farmers."

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