County purchases rights to protect 938 acres

$3.5 million agreement will safeguard forests, cropland, Owens says

April 03, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Richard L. Smith says he isn't "fanatical" about land preservation. He doesn't consider development a modern evil and is actually a fan: "I think we need it."

But he has a different view of Marys Mount Farm, the 311-acre expanse of cropland and woods in Harwood that he and his wife, Mary, have called home for 30 years.

"We just think it's a great private piece of property, and we'd like to see it preserved," he said.

The Smiths have agreed to sell their development rights for $934,500 under an installment purchase plan, Anne Arundel County announced yesterday. That means the property - part of a land grant from Lord Baltimore more than 300 years ago - will still sprout hay but not new houses.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Anne Arundel County edition of The Sun incorrectly described the oversight of an installment purchase agreement program used to preserve agricultural land in Anne Arundel County. The program is run by the county. The Sun regrets the error.

The Smiths and five other South County property owners are joining the county's burgeoning agricultural and woodland preservation movement, a top priority of County Executive Janet S. Owens, who grew up on a tobacco farm in Bristol.

The county says the new agreements will protect 938 acres at a cost of $3.5 million. The county has taken steps to preserve nearly 3,000 acres since Owens was elected in 1998, her spokesman said. Between 1981 and 1998, the county saved 5,600 acres.

Owens called the agreements "a tremendous step forward in preserving our agricultural heritage and our open spaces." She said they will save taxpayers money by reducing the demand for new roads, schools and other government services.

Of the six property owners, four - including the Smiths - are taking part in a relatively new installment purchase agreement program run by the Maryland Land Preservation Foundation.

The program lets the county make payments on the land owners' development rights over 20 or 30 years, allowing the county to preserve more farmland more quickly by decreasing its upfront costs. The program encourages farmers to take part by letting them defer capital gains taxes and guaranteeing a tax-free income during the payment period.

The other two property owners will be paid a lump sum for their development rights. One is Gilbert Hardesty, a retired banker who will receive $539,000 for 154 acres he owns in Lothian. Hardesty applied to the program before the installment plan was offered.

Smith's farm up the road in Harwood is historic. It was part of a land grant from Lord Baltimore around 1660, he said, and the restored house he and his wife live in was built in 1771.

The land is divided evenly between farmland and woods. Ricky Davis, a farmer, grows hay, corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and oats. A 2.5-mile trail winds through the woods and over streams.

Several times a year, the Smiths invite members of the Marlborough Hunt Club to gallop across the land with dozens of hounds sniffing for foxes. The Boy Scouts hold camp-outs and perform tasks needed for merit badges.

Smith, who retired from the insurance business, said he had been skeptical of the preservation program. What helped bring him around, he said, was the wholehearted support of his five grown children, who will lose the right to build houses on the property.

"We all feel real good about this," he said.

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