Md. Environmental Trust heading for record year Agency is expected to save 5,000 acres from development

December 16, 1998|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Thanks to efforts to curb sprawl -- and an end-of-the-year rush for tax write-offs -- the Maryland Environmental Trust is on its way to saving a record number of acres from development this year.

Today, the Board of Public Works is expected to approve the acceptance of more than 3,000 acres in three counties into the easement program, almost as much as the trust receives in a typical year, said Director John Bernstein.

Although not all of the easements coming before the board are signed agreements, Bernstein said he expects that by year's end the trust will have received the development rights on roughly 5,000 acres this year -- about 500 more than last year.

"It looks as if it might be a record year," Bernstein said.

The most recent donations will bring the trust's holdings to more than 65,000 acres, which can never be developed.

About 10,000 acres are in Baltimore County, but large holdings also are on the Eastern Shore.

"We're now the third-biggest holder of donated easements in the United States," Bernstein said.

Only the Virginia Outdoor Federation and the Vermont Land Trust have more donated easements, he said.

The Maryland Environmental Trust, founded in 1967, generally accepts easements on properties of 25 acres or more that are environmentally or historically significant.

Although the trust receives easements on agricultural properties, its mission is different from that of the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation program, which pays farmers for the development rights on their land.

The MET does not pay for easements.

Instead, property owners retain title to their property and receive tax breaks on their income, property and estate taxes when they donate their development rights to the trust.

Exemptions from taxes

For example, land in a perpetual easement is exempt from

property taxes for 15 years, and the value of the easement is exempted from inheritance taxes.

"One reason we are successful is that land values are high in Maryland and, therefore, people can reduce their taxes by a great deal," Bernstein said.

"It's one of the last big tax breaks that's available."

Although the end of the year is traditionally a busy time for the trust as property owners look for last-minute tax write-offs, Bernstein said this year is bigger than most for a number of reasons.

He credited the state's Smart Growth Initiative to curb sprawl and the emergence of local land trusts with helping to generate enthusiasm for land conservation.

The 24 properties coming before the Board of Public Works today include working farms as well as estates with tennis courts and swimming pools.

Eight of the properties are in Baltimore County, which historically has been a large contributor to the trust.

They include 108 acres near Stevenson, 203 acres east of Arcadia, 142 acres north of Butler, and about 250 acres on three properties in the Caves Valley.

Two of the properties are in Carroll County: 61 acres east of Westminster and 50 acres north of Manchester.

One is in Howard County, less than 2 acres in Elkridge.

"Farm land is disappearing," said Jeanne Baetjer who, with her family, is donating the easement near Stevenson.

"There isn't enough green space. Children can't see an open field any more."

Her son, George Baetjer, who lives near Portland, Ore., said his family discussed donating the easement on their farm 18 years before deciding to do it this year.

While the tax breaks are helpful, he said, the overriding reason PTC was the preservation of the farm, which had been in his family since 1921.

Although family members do not farm the land, it is rented out to one of the largest farm operations in the area.

"At some point, somebody has to step forward and demonstrate through their actions that there is more value to the land than the dollar amount," he said.

End-of-year activity

The following is a list of 11 properties in the Baltimore metropolitan area being donated to the Maryland Environmental Trust, among 24 properties statewide coming before the Board

of Public Works in Annapolis today.

Baltimore County

108 acres, by H. Norman Baetjer Jr. and Jeanne H. Baetjer in Green Spring Valley Historic District.

203 acres, by Hugh and Achsah O'Donovan, on Mount Zion Road east of Arcadia.

69 acres, by George and Bessie Palmer, between Falls Road and Yeoho Road, north of Butler.

142 acres, by Francis and Susan Knott, on Stringtown Road, north of Butler.

59 acres by Jonathan and Bonnie Farber, off Garrison Forest Road in Caves Valley.

66 acres by the Wolfe/Farber General Partnership, off Garrison Forest Road in Caves Valley.

132 acres by Howard Wolfe Jr., off Garrison Forest Road in Caves Valley.

398 acres by Jason D. Rosenberg, on Downes Road northeast of Parkton.

Carroll County

50 acres, by Bert Winterbottom and Constance Lieder, on Mount Ventus Road #1, about a half-mile east of Route 30.

61 acres, by Jean A. Yeakel, on Leisters Church Road, near Westminster.

Howard County

Less than 2 acres, by Dale Schumacher at Elibank Drive and Belmont Woods Road, west of Elkridge.

Source: Board of Public Works.

Pub Date: 12/16/98

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