Development bill in Harford causes emotional debate

April 02, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

The Harford County Council's public hearing on a bill to abolish a 20-year-old law that allows farmers to transfer development rights to adjoining properties drew an emotional crowd of about 80 people last night, sparking a decision to postpone any amendment motions until April 15.

More than a dozen people spoke on the bill. Many laid the fault on a lack of designated development areas.

Farmer Ed Snodgrass of Street echoed the opinions of many when he said he believes the county has a transfer development rights law, but no program to guide or regulate the transfers.

"A program would imply some long-term planning and decision-making," he said.

Last month, Lance Miller, the Republican councilman who represents the rural northern tier of Harford, introduced the bill to abolish the law altogether until a stronger one could be devised. His move angered many farmers who see development-transfer rights as key to preserving the value of their land.

The law came under scrutiny recently by community activists and some farmers and lawmakers because its vague wording has allowed developers to hopscotch rights across long distances and pool them to create sizable subdivisions in the midst of farmland.

In the agriculturally zoned areas of the county, a farmer has one development right for every 10 acres he or she owns. Many farmers and developers argue that the program efficiently clusters homes on one tract of land, instead of spreading those houses over several tracts.

Council President Robert Wagner abruptly closed the hearing after the debate began to degenerate into a name-calling match between Councilmen Robert Cassilly and Miller.

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