Shore wilderness spared forever from development DuPont gives rights for 3,300 acres to conservation groups

September 12, 1997|By PETER JENSEN AND CARL M. CANNON | PETER JENSEN AND CARL M. CANNON,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In a major coup for Chesapeake Bay conservation efforts, DuPont Co. announced yesterday that it has forever spared from development its 3,300-acre Chesapeake Farms in Kent County.

By donating its rights to develop the sprawling waterfront property to two national conservation groups, the company agreed to the single largest conservation easement ever granted in Maryland.

The estate, which is on Route 20 about 10 miles southwest of Chestertown, has long been considered an environmental jewel. It is used today by the company as a demonstration farm, conference center, hunting grounds and wildlife preserve.

"What a company does with the lands in its care reveals its values," John A. Krol, president and chief executive officer of DuPont, said at a National Press Club ceremony.

The Wilmington, Del.-based chemical manufacturer was praised by environmentalists and Maryland officials as a model of corporate citizenship.

"Thanks to DuPont, the water is purer, the air is cleaner and our farms are more productive," said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. "I sincerely hope it will serve as an inspiration for other corporations."

Ralph E. Grossi, head of the American Farmland Trust, expressed the same sentiment, cautioning that despite yesterday's announcement and Maryland's aggressive efforts at preserving farms, some 1 million acres of agricultural land are being taken out of production in the United States each year.

Covering five miles of waterfront along Langford and Shipyard creeks, Chesapeake Farms provides habitat to as many as 40 bald eagles, 50 species of nesting birds and 20 types of mammals, including the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel.

Its history as a wildlife preserve dates to the 1930s, when it was assembled from 23 farms by Glenn L. Martin, the aviation pioneer.

DuPont officials said there were never any plans to develop the land, but donating the conservation easement will ensure that it will not face large-scale development. The easement will be held jointly by two national nonprofit conservation organizations, the American Farmland Trust and the Conservation Fund.

The development rights are worth an estimated $3 million, and DuPont will be able to take that amount as a one-time income tax write-off. That means DuPont's corporate income tax bill for this year will be roughly $1 million lower, Krol said.

Asked if that was a factor, he laughed and said, "We pay billions in taxes each year -- that had nothing to do with it. It's a demonstration of our values, which is good from a customer standpoint and good from an employee standpoint. They are proud of this."

DuPont is also donating $50,000 to American Farmland Trust to defray costs arising from the gift.

"We've made a major contribution to wildlife habitat in Kent County," said Mark C. Conner, manager of the farm, which employs 20. "Now DuPont is guaranteeing that commitment will be sustained."

Until 1993, the farm was named Remington Farms after the DuPont firearms subsidiary that bought the property from Martin in 1958. DuPont sold Remington four years ago but kept the farm.

A portion of the property is open to the public for self-guided driving tours, primarily to show off its environmental projects.

Under terms of the easement, DuPont agreed not to subdivide beyond five parcels nor build more than five new primary residences on the 5-square-mile property.

Company officials said they plan to continue to use the land for the same purposes they have in the past, including taking corporate customers hunting, demonstrating DuPont agriculture products and preserving natural habitat.

Kent County officials said they were delighted with DuPont's decision. The rural county has been facing heightened development pressure in recent years, particularly around the growing waterfront communities of Rock Hall and Chestertown.

"The way property is going now, Chesapeake Farms is priceless," said Clarence A. Hawkins, a retired county school administrator and president of the county's board of commissioners. "I go there six or seven times a year myself. It's a fascinating place."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening applauded the donation as an example of the kind of land preservation he wants to encourage with the state's Smart Growth anti-sprawl initiatives.

But a DuPont spokesman acknowledged that the governor had little to do personally with the decision. The DuPont gift will not take advantage of any of the state programs that compensate landowners for development rights.

The DuPont donation is the second major Eastern Shore land grant that can be traced in some way to the wealthy family that founded the company.

Earlier this year, Jean D. Shehan donated a 948-acre Talbot County farm to the National Audubon Society for use as a wildlife sanctuary and education center. A Coral Gables, Fla., resident, she is the daughter of the late William DuPont Jr.

The sale or donation of conservation easements is a growing trend in Maryland. As of last October, a total of 25,339 acres have been protected from development by local land trusts, 67,708 acres by regional and national conservation organizations, and 367,867 acres by state agencies.

"People are showing a greater concern for the loss of farmland and natural areas on the Eastern Shore," said Mary Ellen Olcese, director of development for the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy.

It also makes sense for some families that are cash-poor but land-rich and face significant estate tax issues, proponents said.

"If you want to hold onto property under those circumstances, granting an easement makes a lot of sense," said Lee R. Epstein, director of land conservation for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

"It's a way to satisfy altruistic as well as estate planning and tax benefit goals."

Pub Date: 9/12/97

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