Green acres Interim easement program shows commitment to farmland preservation.

June 12, 1996

PRESERVATION OF TWO more small farms by Carroll County under the "critical farms" program underlines the local commitment to protecting agricultural acreage from development.

Although totaling only 244 acres, the two land holdings were vulnerable to subdivision. The county commissioners moved swiftly to place them under the interim protection program that was enacted three years ago for just such circumstances.

The farms were recently sold, so that the new owners would have to wait five years to qualify for the state program that purchases farm development rights. The Carroll program allows the land to be placed immediately in a preservation district for five years and pays three-quarters of the expected state easement price. When the state eventually buys the farm easements, landowners repay the county.

The Carroll County system has been used to preserve more than 1,000 acres on nine farms since 1993, helping those property owners to avoid the temptation to subdivide plots before becoming eligible for the state program.

Under state and county programs, Carroll farmers don't have to sell lots for development in order to get money for their equity, Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said. But the owners must be willing to commit their land to agricultural preservation, not to land-banking for future development.

Some rural property owners complain that their land values have been shrunk by county zoning and planning decisions that lowered the density for subdividing farm plots and restricted the development of even those smaller subdivisions. They may not find much attraction in these preservation programs. But many Carroll farmers are interested in farmland easements, if the money can be found to buy the potential development rights. That's why the earmarking of more than $4 million for agricultural preservation in the county's fiscal year 1997 is important. That may buy easements on about 3,000 acres, adding to the 24,000 acres already under protection in Carroll.

The county is looking for other ways to speed the program, with a goal of preserving 100,000 acres. Already a leader in Maryland, as well as nationally, in farmland protection, Carroll recognizes the lasting value of those green acres.

Pub Date: 6/12/96

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