Carroll County to debate funding for Rural Legacy State program would save land from development

December 26, 1997|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Carroll's commissioners will decide next month whether to earmark $1 million to improve the county's chance of sharing in a $24 million state program to save Maryland farms and woodlands from development.

The Rural Legacy program, part of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth initiative, will provide the money over the next two fiscal years to buy development rights from property owners who agree to keep the land in agriculture, forest, wetlands or waterfront buffers.

The County Commissioners rejected an initial request to set aside $500,000 in local agricultural preservation funds in each of the next two fiscal years for Rural Legacy. But William Powel, the county agricultural preservation program director, plans to try to persuade them to reverse that decision before the Jan. 30 application deadline. He now has the support of the county's Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he will listen, but, "I'd be awfully cautious about taking money out of agricultural preservation for Rural Legacy."

He said he had hoped the program would supplement the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation farm easement purchases but is concerned that much of the state money may be used to buy easements on steep slopes and lowlands that could not be farmed.

"I don't know how much control the tree huggers are going to have," Dell said.

Powel says he sees the local money as bait to snag additional state aid, benefiting both programs.

Counties aren't required to put up local money to receive Rural Legacy aid, but the state will consider local financial commitments among other criteria.

"I think there's going to be a lot of competition," said H. Grant Dehart, director of the state's Program Open Space.

His department expects at least 15 applications, including one from a six-county group on the Eastern Shore. The money will be allocated by the state Board of Public Works -- the governor, comptroller and state treasurer.

Carroll has designated the Little Pipe and Sams creeks watersheds as its proposed Rural Legacy area, about 35,000 acres. But 7,000 acres is in the community planning areas of New Windsor, Union Bridge or Westminster, where, Powel said, the program would not buy easements, "except in extraordinary circumstances."

The designated area, "is more likely to develop intensely than areas further north and west. Secondly, we have a high portion of farms in preservation districts and easements in that area," he said. The state wants to preserve blocks of land rather than patchwork easements.

Carroll's own preservation program -- which aims to save 100,000 acres -- has 45 farms totaling 4,650 acres under agricultural preservation easements and 39 farms totaling 3,800 acres in preservation districts, where development is restricted but owners have not sold easements to the state.

Easements sold under Rural Legacy will be perpetual. A farmer who sells development rights through the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation program can buy them back after 25 years.

Some Carroll farmers are guarded about Rural Legacy, said William Knill, former Maryland Farm Bureau president. "It's new, people are kind of getting a feel for what it is. Some are a little suspicious," he said.

Knill said he saw the emphasis change from agricultural to environmental easements as the Rural Legacy program evolved through the 1997 General Assembly. But he said he believes the program can be valuable for the county to create blocks of protected land in the Rural Legacy area.

The county's solicitation of co-sponsors for Rural Legacy have had mixed results. The Carroll County Land Trust signed on last week, agreeing to provide up to $750 in administrative services for donated easements and to serve as a co-holder of easements.

Westminster's government doesn't see the program as relevant to the city's planned growth. "We told the county it's not necessarily a bad idea," said Thomas B. Beyard, planning and public works director. "But we want to be able to take advantage of Smart Growth in our town."

Beyard said city wellheads generally have open space protection, and much of the vacant land in the city is planned for development.

Union Bridge will decide in January whether to co-sponsor the county application. Mayor Perry L. Jones said he was favorably impressed, but wanted the council to consider the program.

New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. could not be reached.

Pub Date: 12/26/97

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