Carroll preserving 532 more acres of farmland USDA grant to help county spend $804,077 to protect 4 farms from development

December 05, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Aided by a $100,000 federal grant, the county plans to add four farms -- another 532 acres -- to Carroll's land preservation program in the next two weeks.

The federal money -- from the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- will be used to help buy a $185,716.75 easement on a 100-acre farm at Marble Quarry and McKinstrys Mill roads near the Carroll-Frederick county line.

In return for selling the county an easement for the assessed value of the land, owner Elizabeth Heger has agreed to keep the farm from being developed.

Altogether, the county will spend $804,076.87 to keep the Heger property and three other farms out of development.

The Heger farm will become part of a preservation area of more than 7,000 contiguous acres in Frederick and Carroll counties. In Carroll, the preservation area extends from Taneytown south to the county line. Taneytown is the site of one of the other farms the county plans to keep undeveloped. Preserving the 117-acre property at Crouse Mill and Stonesifer roads south of Taneytown will cost the county $157,120.83.

The other two farms the county plans to preserve are owned by the same couple and form a 315-acre horseshoe around an intervening farm near Bachman Mills north of Westminster. The county plans to pay the owners $461,239.29 to keep the farms from being developed.

The county is buying an easement on the Heger property and options on the other three properties through its critical farms program.

Begun in 1993, the program is designed to keep farms from being developed when they are sold. The program helps contract purchasers or buyers who have owned a farm less than a year enter the state agricultural preservation program.

The state pays landowners up to 100 percent of assessed value to keep their farms from being developed. But property owners have to wait up to five years to get their money.

The county program, by contrast, pays landowners immediately, but at 75 percent of assessed value. The county also puts owners into the state program. If, as expected, the owners eventually sell their easements to the state, the county will recoup its money.

Since 1993, the county has used its critical farms program to preserve nine properties totaling 1,029 acres. Preservation easements on three of those properties have since been obtained by the state, enabling the county to recover its investment.

Altogether, Carroll has used state and county programs to keep 25,180 acres out of development. The goal is to preserve 100,000 acres.

When voting this week to approve the four latest acquisitions, County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown fretted about recent criticism of the program.

"I am concerned about public comments that the agricultural preservation program is basically a disservice to the county," he said. "Those who hold those views are basically two types -- people who don't understand the program and people who want to develop with no objections."

The chief reason people choose to live in Carroll is that they like the open space, Brown said. "But people are not going to farm if farming is not viable. It is in all our interests to preserve farmland."

Brown said that 9 cents of the 27-cent increase in the property tax rate that he and Commissioner Donald I. Dell voted for last spring will be used for agricultural land preservation.

"That was done to give a very strong message to farmers that we have a commitment to this program," Brown said.

Pub Date: 12/05/96

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