Small group tackles big preservation task

Land trust nears first goal of saving 1,000 farm acres

April 25, 1999|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Eight years old and 40 members strong, the Carroll County Land Trust hopes to post its first milestone this year -- preserving 1,000 acres of rich, historic land from rapid sprawl.

The nonprofit group, which operates from the home of a former Carroll planning director, has joined forces with the county's Agricultural Land Preservation Program in a goal to save 100,000 acres from development.

Members will soon embark on a fund-raising campaign that features an old-fashioned "road show" depicting slides of bucolic Carroll farms threatened by bulldozers.

"We have to act before it's too late," said Ned Cueman, the former planning director, a board member of the land trust. "Time is close to running out on the land here. Other counties have passed that point of no return."

Throughout thousands of U.S. communities, small nonprofit trusts have protected 4.7 million acres of open space, a census conducted by the Land Trust Alliance of Washington found last year.

In Maryland, dozens of trusts have helped protect 65,000 acres from development through agricultural and conservation easements. Last year, the Maryland Environmental Trust logged a record-breaking number of easements that protected 6,000 acres, Director John C. Bernstein said.

Conservation easements offer state and federal tax breaks in return for a pledge by the landowner to block development perpetually. Farmers who sell development rights through the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation program can buy them back after 25 years. As an added perk, the Carroll land trust last year started paying up to $700 toward land appraisals.

"Our accomplishments to date are modest but significant," said V. David Grayson, president of the land trust. With a grant from the state environmental trust, the group published a brochure detailing the tax benefits of conservation easements, which experts say are more attractive now because of the strong economy.

In Carroll, 29,000 acres of farmland have been placed in permanent agricultural easements, making it one of the most successful farmland preservation programs in the United States. Those efforts have been funded in part over the past three years with $2.8 million in county funds. Preservationists say restrictive zoning in certain parts of Carroll that allow one dwelling per 20 acres have helped halt development.

More restrictive zoning -- one dwelling per 50 acres -- exists in neighboring Baltimore and Frederick counties. Other programs, like the state's Rural Legacy program, which last year awarded Carroll $1.5 million to help protect Little Pipe Creek and Sams Creek watersheds, also help foster preservation efforts, Cueman said.

"We are starting to get stronger as more people understand what we do," he said. "We hope that with all these different programs, we can generate or produce the easements to tie down the land before other forces in the market beat this thing to the punch."

Grayson said the trust is working on six easements and just helped preserve a large farm at the Mason-Dixon Line along Francis Scott Key Highway. One landowner considering an easement on her 30-acre Manchester farm attended the trust's annual meeting Thursday in Westminster and echoed the sentiments of most preservationists.

"I just hate to see all of the houses going up on good farmland," said Marian Nash, who has owned the farm where corn and wheat have been grown since the 1940s. "It really upsets me."

Pub Date: 4/25/99

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