Rural Legacy limits favored Landowners who sell development rights ineligible for funds

July 09, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

A $2.5 million fund to preserve nearly 1,000 acres of the Little Pipe Creek watershed will only be available to landowners who have not sold their development rights, the county's Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board decided last night.

The decision means that people who own "remainders" -- farmland left on an agricultural property after all permitted residential lots have been developed -- will not be eligible for the funds.

Seven owners of remainders, whose land totals about 280 acres, had hoped to participate in the Rural Legacy program.

The $29 million 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 selected areas may sell development rights to a land trust or local government, preserving the properties from development.

Last month, the governor awarded Carroll County $1.5 million to protect 1,000 acres of the Little Pipe Creek watershed, a 35,000-acre area on the western edge of the county. The county had asked the state for about $8 million to buy easements on 4,000 acres.

The County Commissioners last week put $1 million in county funds into the program.

The state has asked that the money 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 area, about 280 of the 1,000 acres that would be preserved are "remainders."

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

The county, however, has discouraged spending land preservation funds on these remainders, preferring to support farmland where no development has occurred. In 1982, the county passed an ordinance that remainders would not be eligible for the county's Agricultural Preservation Program, which has a goal of setting aside 100,000 acres by 2020.

The advisory board last night agreed that these same restrictions should apply to applicants to the Rural Legacy program. There is little possibility that these remainders will be developed for churches or other nonresidential uses, they said.

"If there is nothing there to preserve, why are we trying to preserve them?" asked Ruth W. Chamelin, chairwoman of the Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board.

The restrictions on the Rural Legacy grant are expected to be approved by the state, said William Powel III, the county's agricultural preservation program director.

Grant Dehart, director of the state Open Space program, said yesterday that the Rural Legacy Board has not addressed the county's changes. He said he did not think they would violate the program's policies.

"By and large, we are not going to be micromanaging these programs," Dehart said. "We'll let the county work out that themselves, so long as the purpose of the program is maintained."

Though the owners of remainders cannot participate in the Rural Legacy program now, Powel said that may change when new applications are taken next year.

"At some point maybe we will be buying rights to remainders, but not until we address the needs of people with development rights," Powel said.

Pub Date: 7/09/98

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