Carroll should buy farm, Agriculture Center backers say

Acquisition of property means access to Route 27

May 09, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The key to the growth of the Carroll County Agriculture Center in Westminster is, fittingly, a farm.

Center supporters say the county should consider acquiring a 104-acre family farm located between the center and Route 27, before the prime real estate is snapped up by a developer.

Acquisition of that farm -- just outside Westminster city limits on Ridge Road -- would provide the Ag Center with a main entrance from Route 27, as well as more land for horse shows and other uses, and preserve what little agricultural land there is in the immediate area of the center and the Carroll County Farm Museum.

If the county commissioners are trying to buy the farm, owned by the Gesell family, they won't say.

"We've talked about it before, but I can't talk about it at this time," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell.

The property is not on the open market, and The Sun was unable to reach a member of the family to determine whether it is for sale.

On all other sides, the 13-acre Ag Center's neighbors are homes and the Carroll County Farm Museum. The only route to the Ag Center is Smith Avenue, a small residential road that connects to Route 32 about a half-mile from the center.

"They really need another entrance," said Paul Lynch, a Union Bridge sheep farmer who is president of the Carroll County Agriculture Commission, which advises the county commissioners.

At the Ag Commission's meeting in March, members supported the county buying the farm before it is grabbed by developers.

"I think there is no question that's going to be developed if it isn't purchased by the county" or otherwise preserved for agriculture, Lynch said.

The Ag Center is a private, nonprofit organization with a board of trustees made up of representatives from several farm groups and clubs, such as the Carroll County Farm Bureau, the Pomona Grange and 4-H.

Lawrence Meeks, board president, said the subject of buying the land doesn't come up at board meetings because the center has no money to buy it.

"The Ag Center would like to have some growth if that's possible, but we are in no position, with this building project, to purchase the land," Meeks said.

The center is expected to break ground in August, after the 4-H Fair, on a $3.4 million expansion. The project has received three state grants totaling $700,000. The Ag Center board is hoping for more state grants in the next few years but may be able to build the project on schedule using short-term loans from the county.

The Gesell land is being farmed. From the Ag Center, one can look west and see cattle grazing on its pastures. The north view is of the county-owned Farm Museum, and Carroll County General Hospital beyond. The south and west views are dominated by houses.

Maryland tax records show an assessed value of $179,010 for the land and house, but the market value could be much higher. Assessment on agricultural land is low to give farmers tax breaks and is usually not a reflection of the market value of the land, said State Sen. Larry E. Haines, chairman of the county's legislative delegation and owner of a real estate company.

Haines said he wasn't aware that the commissioners might be trying to buy the farm. He said that even if the land is developed, it could benefit the Ag Center. He said he suggested more than a year ago -- at a meeting between the Ag Center and residents of nearby Winchester Park -- that should the land be developed, the county could require that public roads be built to provide access to the Ag Center from Route 27.

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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