Keeping open space open Farmland: 1998 was a big year for agricultural preservation programs statewide.

December 30, 1998|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Steven Troyer grew up helping his father raise cattle, barley, corn and wheat on a family farm that spans the scenic hills, woods and fields near White Hall in northern Baltimore County.

"It can be frustrating at times," said Troyer, who, with his brother David and his father, Elwood, contends with bad weather, fluctuating crop prices and rising equipment costs. "But I've been doing it all my life, and once I started doing it, I never considered doing anything else."

He won't have to, thanks to a Baltimore County agricultural preservation program that appears headed for a banner year.

Next month, Baltimore County officials plan to spend more than $1.5 million for development rights to about 600 acres of farmland spread across the county's northern tier, including part of the Troyers' farm.

Steven, David and Elwood Troyer will be paid $700,000 for the development rights to 296 acres of their farm.

In addition, Richardson's Farm Inc. will be paid $468,000 for development rights to 156 acres in the 6000 block of Williams Road in Glen Arm. Roger and Lewis Swift will receive $447,000 for the rights to 150 acres of their dairy farm in the 17000 block of Troyer Road in Monkton.

The sales are to be reviewed by the Baltimore County Council at its Jan. 19 meeting.

"If they're approved, it means these properties will never be developed," said Wallace S. Lippincott Jr., administrator of the county's preservation program.

The purchases cap a big year for open-space preservation in Baltimore County and statewide.

The Maryland Environmental Trust, which generally accepts easements on properties of 25 acres or more that are environmentally or historically significant, has received development rights on roughly 5,000 acres this year, about 500 more than last year. About 10,000 of the trust's 65,000 protected acres are in Baltimore County.

The pending package is the second set of county purchases since the program began two years ago. County officials made their first purchases in April, when they agreed to pay $574,000 to purchase development rights to 151 acres on two other northern Baltimore County farms.

The idea, they say, is to keep farming viable by preserving the largest possible contiguous tracts to minimize conflicts between suburban housing and farms.

Lippincott said the three farms slated for January approvals topped a list of 14 applications submitted by farmers this year seeking to sell their development rights.

"No matter what you do, you're going to have more applicants than you can approve because the need is unbelievable, and that is how we want it to be. We want farms that are in key areas and farmers willing to commit themselves," said George G. Perdikakis, director of Baltimore County's Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management.

The agreement allows landowners to build up to two homes on the tracts for relatives. Future owners face the same development restrictions, he said.

For the Troyers, the program means having the cash they need to continue farming -- and an end to being tempted to sell to a real estate developer. Troyer said that such temptation is very powerful for some of his neighbors.

"My gosh, there's development all around here," Troyer said.

'A good idea'

On a recent tour of the land, Richard Troyer, a brother who once worked on the family farm and will be a caretaker, said the parcel lies between two neighboring farms that also have sold land into the state preservation program.

"It's a good idea because it means this will stay the way it is forever," he said, looking over a pen holding 15 head of beef cattle.

The county's program is similar to the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, a state farmland preservation program that has been using real estate transfer taxes to buy farmland since 1980.

In the past, the county has contributed money to preserve farmland through the state program and had saved roughly 12,326 acres of Baltimore County farmland.

County money

But the county set up its program about two years ago because it wanted to be more aggressive about preserving farmland in the face of increasing costs for development rights, Perdikakis said.

"Baltimore County faces a very serious problem with land preservation because our land costs more per acre than any other jurisdiction, and therefore our dollar doesn't go as far as it does in other jurisdictions," Perdikakis said.

The county program takes about a year from the time applications are submitted until the purchase is approved, he said.

The state program took about two years, he said.

'It takes time'

"You have to appraise the land and you have to negotiate with the landowner. It takes time to do it right," Perdikakis said.

Perdikakis said that 75 percent of the money to fund the program comes from state real estate transfer taxes collected from the sale of farmland.

The balance is federal grants and county tax money, he said.

Last year, the county received $50,000 in federal grants for the program, and this year it received $75,000, he said.

Pub Date: 12/30/98

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