$1 million pledged to preserve land Commissioners' vote ensures $1.5 million grant from state

1,000 acres to be saved

Rural Legacy project aims to keep farmland development at bay

July 01, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Faced with the possible loss of a $1.5 million Rural Legacy land preservation grant, the County Commissioners agreed yesterday to meet a $1 million commitment to the program -- even though the state grant is one-sixth of what the county requested.

The state and county money will be enough to preserve nearly 1,000 acres of the Little Pipe Creek watershed, a 35,000-acre region on the western edge of the county. The county had asked the state for about $8 million to buy easements on 4,000 acres.

Despite the scaled-down grant, the state asked that the county meet its pledge of matching county funds. If not, the state grant money would have been in jeopardy.

"I think we should apply the million so we at least get [the grant]," Commissioner Donald I. Dell said yesterday. "I think we would be in bad shape if we don't participate."

Dell and Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown voted in favor of the matching funds. Commissioner Richard T. Yates was absent.

Brown and Dell, however, attached a condition to their support: that the county's Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board come an agreement with the state on details of how the limited

Rural Legacy funds are spent.

The state has asked that the $2.5 million in county and state funds be used to buy easements near New Windsor, where development pressure is greatest. The county had planned to give priority to areas on the western edge of the watershed, where large blocks of farmland are available for preservation.

In the New Windsor region, about 300 of the 1,000 acres that would be preserved are "remainders," farmland left over on an agricultural property after all the permitted residential lots have been developed.

For instance, the owner of a 40-acre agricultural parcel would be allowed to build two homes. Though no more homes could be built on the remaining land, a church, day care center or other structure might be permitted on agricultural land. Purchasing the easements on the property would guarantee that they are not.

The county, however, has discouraged spending land preservation funds on "remainders," preferring to support farmland where no development has occurred. Dell yesterday asked that that policy not change for the Rural Legacy program.

William Powel, county agricultural preservation director and administrator of the Rural Legacy grant application, said the Agricultural Preservation Board will decide whether to make an exception to the county rule. The board could ask the state for a compromise on directing the grant money to other parcels near New Windsor. The board meets this month.

The Rural Legacy Program, part of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth initiative, was created to protect land that might not qualify for other preservation programs. Landowners in the selected areas may sell their development rights to a land trust or local government, preserving the properties from development.

Carroll County is one of four counties that offered to match funds in their Rural Legacy applications. County officials in Baltimore, Worcester and Queen Anne's also promised local funds to support their proposals.

To generate widespread support for Rural Legacy, the first $29 million in state funds is being spread thinly among 14 areas. Other beneficiaries include Civil War sites in Frederick and Washington counties and land in northwestern Baltimore County's Piney Run area, an agricultural region and watershed with numerous historic districts.

Pub Date: 7/01/98

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