Carroll land trust targets Finksburg property owners

Group seeks to protect farms from development

January 14, 2001|By Brenda J. Buote and Mary Gail Hare | Brenda J. Buote and Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Land Trust recently mailed 4,000 fliers to Finksburg landowners in an effort to increase membership and persuade farmers to donate their development rights to the private, nonprofit organization.

"We're concentrating on the Finksburg area because of the development pressure there," said Dave Grayson, president of the group, which helps preserve farmland and open space. "We've had quite a bit of interest from Finksburg landowners and are quite pleased by the response."

Finksburg, an unincorporated area along Route 140, considers itself a gateway to Carroll County. The area is home to more than 17,000 people and encompasses about 8,985 acres. Much of that land is zoned for 3-acre residential lots.

The mass mailing was the land trust's first significant marketing effort, and its success has prompted the group to consider another mailing, probably to the Freedom Area in South Carroll. The Carroll County Community Foundation gave the land preservation group a $1,000 grant to pay for printing and postage.

"To date, we have 25 new members as a result of this mailing," said Ned Cueman, easement co- ordinator for the organization.

Since it was founded nearly 10 years ago, the land trust has accepted donated easements on almost 1,000 acres throughout the county, said Cueman. Those properties are permanently protected from development.

"You will know you can come back here in 50 years and the land will not be developed," said Cueman, who noted that Baltimore County has a similar land trust. Easements on about 15,000 acres have been donated to that group.

Carroll County ranks among the highest nationally in preserved agricultural acreage. The county has about 300,000 acres of farmland and has set a goal of preserving at least one-third of that land by 2020. Since 1978, when Carroll began protecting farmland from development, the county has preserved more than 34,000 acres through a combination of state and local initiatives.

Carroll's agricultural preservation program allows the county to buy development rights from farmers who want to continue working the land, but who need money to cover operating costs. The commissioners have set aside more than $4 million for land preservation in fiscal 2001, which began July 1.

To be considered for the preservation program, a farm must be at least 100 acres or contiguous to another farm in the program.

The land trust does not have constraints on the size of donated easements and has accepted parcels as small as 10 acres.

"The trust can also consider lands not necessarily tillable but environmentally sensitive," said Cueman.

To complement the commissioners' initiative, the land trust asked the commissioners in April to consider offering property tax credits to landowners who donate the development rights to parcels as small as 15 acres.

Under the proposal, the county would offer tax credits for the land under a farmer's home, filling a gap in an existing state program. The Maryland Environmental Trust offers a tax write-off for farmland, but does not give credits for the land on which the farmer lives.

If the commissioners embrace the proposal, farmers would receive a tax credit of up to $50 per acre per year for 15 years, if they donate their easements to the land trust in perpetuity.

To implement the proposed tax credit plan, the commissioners would have to hold a public hearing, then adopt an ordinance creating the program. The process could take several months.

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