$580,000 OK'd to save three farms County program offers immediate way to aid new farmers

387 acres preserved

Owners can also sell easements to state, but gain start-up time

August 12, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Moving one step closer to the county's goal of preserving 100,000 acres by 2020, the County Commissioners agreed yesterday to spend $580,000 to purchase development rights on 387 acres of farmland.

The land will be acquired as part of the county's Critical Farms program. Established in 1992, the program assists new farm owners who want to use preservation funds to buy a farm, but cannot afford to wait for the lengthy state preservation program process.

The commissioners approved three properties to participate in the program: Blaine A. Harman, who will receive $215,000 for easements on his 168-acre farm at in the 6800 block of Middleburg Road, Keymar; Matthew M. and Debra L. Hoff, who will receive $219,000 for easements on 127 acres in the 2000 block of Old New Windsor Road, New Windsor; and Michael A. and Kristin D. Tracey, who will receive $144,000 for 91 acres in the 1700 block of Manchester Road, Westminster.

Harman said he will use the farmland to produce grain and forage for his dairy farm on Stover Road. He hopes the new farm will allow him to expand his herd, he said.

"I think the money up front is a super program," said Harman.

He had been approached by developers to sell some parcels, but the program allowed him to preserve the entire farm, he said.

During a public hearing on the properties yesterday, Andrew York, who is selling his farm to Harman, praised the Critical Farms program for saving the farm from development. "I think it's an area that should be kept rural without any development," said York, who is selling his property so he can retire in Nevada.

The Hoffs also will use their farm as part of a dairy operation. County officials said they did not know how the Traceys plan to use their land.

Under the Critical Farms program, the county will pay these property owners 75 percent of the easement value immediately, so they don't need to wait to enter the state program.

The county started the program because it was afraid that buyers would subdivide their land rather than wait up to five years to enter the state program.

Once they have entered the Critical Farms program, the owners can sell their easements to the state, usually at a higher amount.

If the state purchases the easement, owners reimburse the county and pocket the difference between the 75 percent the county paid and the amount the state will pay.

If the owner is unable to sell an easement to the state, the county acquires the easement without any additional payment, or the property owner can terminate the agreement by repaying the county with interest.

Since the county committed in 1979 to preserving 100,000 acres, nearly 29,000 acres have been preserved through the agricultural preservation program, the Critical Farms program and other programs. Another 18,000 acres are in agricultural preservation districts -- the first step toward permanent preservation.

Pub Date: 8/12/98

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