Commissioners discuss development strategy, ways to save farmland

Goal is to preserve 100,000 acres by 2020

July 13, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

In their first public discussion on Carroll's plan for future growth and development, the county commissioners considered yesterday a new strategy for preserving farmland.

The program would allow builders to increase the density of homes in one area if they preserved rural land in another.

This policy, known as transferable development rights, compensates farmers for the development potential of their land. It is used in Montgomery and Calvert counties and counties in California and New Jersey, Carroll planners said.

The commissioners are at the beginning of a four-month-long review of the county's proposed master plan. Last year, the previous board of commissioners shelved the plan, leaving it for the next board to discuss.

The proposed plan would direct development to designated growth areas, set goals for preserving 100,000 acres of farmland, and change the land use on five properties totaling 223 acres to foster economic development.

The commissioners can accept or reject the proposed plan, but cannot amend it. Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier suggested yesterday that a transferable development rights program would run independent of government control, leaving decisions to developers and landowners.

The developer of land that had five lots, for instance, could put 10 houses on the property by buying the development rights in an area where the commissioners want land preserved. The transfer would be unrestricted as long as the land to be developed could support the additional private wells and septic systems.

"It would be a free market," Frazier said.

But the planning staff was concerned about how the county would control where growth occurs if the program was left to the private sector.

"If the intention is to preserve farms, you need to identify where you want to send that growth," said Steve Horn, director of the county planning department.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge asked the staff do more research on how other counties run their programs.

"If other people have done it, I'd like to know how they've done it," Gouge said.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell supported the proposal but also asked for more research. Dell cautioned that the program should not disrupt the county's agricultural land preservation program, in which farmers sell development rights to the state.

The county's goal is to preserve 100,000 acres of farmland by 2020. So far, the county has preserved about 28,000 acres. To meet its goal, county planners have suggested preserving at least 3,750 acres each year. If approved, the transferable development rights program could also be a powerful tool to help the county reach the annual quota, county planners say.

The commissioners also debated whether the county should set a goal for improving commercial and industrial development. Business provides slightly less than 12 percent of Carroll's tax base, the lowest business-to-residential ratio in the region.

The commissioners agreed that while the county wants to attract new businesses, a precise goal might not be necessary.

"We are striving to achieve a higher economic base, not a percentage," she said.

The commissioners will continue discussing economic development at a meeting in two weeks.

Pub Date: 7/13/99

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