Council debates 2 bills giving farmers flexibility

April 17, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

Two bills that would give farmers more flexibility in the use of their land are being considered by the Harford County Council.

One of the bills would broaden regulations to allow farmers to sell nonagricultural products at roadside stands and markets.

The other measure revises standards for panhandle lots in agricultural and residential districts. Panhandle lots are properties that share a single, private driveway off a main road.

The bills were introduced by the Rehrmann administration as a package along with a right-to-farm bill designed to protect farmers from nuisance suits by neighbors. That bill passed unanimously Tuesday.

The "panhandle" bill still before the council would revise regulations established in the county code in 1984 to allow development of up to six lots off a single private road that could be as long as 1,000 feet.

County planners say the increased length of the road will allow farmers to sell portions of their land that are away from the main road, minimizing interference with existing farm operations and limiting change to the rural character of the area.

BTC But some council members object to the bill.

Theresa M. Pierno, a District C Democrat, says panhandle roads may require expensive repairs by residents when drainage and construction-related problems develop after a builder has completed a development. She has introduced amendments to limit the length of a panhandle road in urban-residential districts to 300 feet and the number of lots off that road to two.

Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson wants to restrict residential and agricultural panhandle roads to 500 feet in length, with a maximum of four lots that can be developed.

He says that people don't realize they're buying a private driveway when they conclude the sale and that trouble often develops when they can't agree with neighbors on responsibility for maintaining the road.

"Anything we do to promote the proliferation of this type of subdivision is going to create messes 10 or 20 years from now," he said at a recent public hearing on the bill.

Lee McDaniel, president of the Harford County Farm Bureau, likes the proposal.

"This bill gives the farmer the flexibility to build lots on his less desirable land," he told council members at the hearing. "[Road] frontage land is generally prime farmland, so this helps get development to the back."

The other bill, on agricultural retail definitions and regulations, was drafted in response to farmers who wanted to sell a wider variety of products at their roadside stands.

The legislation would allow the owners of a produce stand with agricultural zoning to sell agricultural products that have been produced on other farms as well as their own. It also would allow up to 20 percent of a stand's area to be dedicated to nonagricultural products.

Councilman Robert Wagner, a farmer in District E, called the bill "the cheapest form of agricultural preservation you'll ever find." He said that as long as you "allow a farmer to make a decent living," he won't need to sell his land to developers.

In other action Tuesday, the council, sitting as the Board of Health, heard recommendations from a Harford County task force on setting up a local health authority to administer mental health services in the county.

"There's been a dramatic shift away from state hospitals to community services," said Mary R. Craig, head of Harford's Core Service Agency Task Force.

The task force was assigned by the county executive to study the possibility of establishing a local authority, separate from the county Health Department, to oversee the administration of mental health care.

Ms. Craig told the council that the state Mental Hygiene Administration will give local subdivisions more say in how they spend their allotted state money if they establish a separate authority to manage care.

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