Harford nonprofit preserves 75-acre property

Owner wanted land to be used for education

February 29, 2004|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Harford Land Trust announced last week the conservation of 75 acres in the northwest end of the county and released results of a study on growth it commissioned that show the county is losing money on residential growth.

Ann Helton, vice president of the board of the land trust, said Friday that the group commissioned the study by the American Farmland Trust "to gain a better understanding of all the land uses in Harford County."

She described the study as a "real-time snapshot" of the county's revenues and expenditures, adding that she hopes the results will be used by county leaders in making policy decisions.

The county is in the midst of updating its master plan and zoning code, and soon will begin comprehensive rezoning.

"It gives all of us baseline data to help us understand the true costs of the basic land uses and what it takes to support them," said David P. Miller, land trust executive director. "This is the first time Harford County has had this kind of picture."

The study found that for every dollar the county receives from residential development, it pays about $1.11 in services. For every dollar generated by commercial and industrial development, the county spends about 40 cents in services, while for farm and open land, the county spends 91 cents in services for every dollar received, the study found.

The American Farmland Trust based its conclusions on revenue and expenditure data from fiscal year 2002. Andy Andrews, economic specialist for the group, said using a single year's data allowed researchers to examine revenues and expenses in greater detail, and kept costs down for the sponsors.

The study cost $15,000 and was paid for by the land trust, the Deer Creek Watershed Association, Exelon Generation (owner of the Conowingo hydroelectric plant), Friends of Harford, Harford County Farm Bureau, the Manor Conservancy, the New Harford Democratic Club and private contributors.

James Richardson, who monitors agricultural preservation issues for county government, said Friday that he had not seen a full copy of the study but that the results were not surprising.

"We think the results are pretty consistent with what we're seeing in other states," Richardson said. "We do know it costs a lot of money to build schools and a lot of money to build highways. And money is getting tougher and tougher to come by."

He added that with comprehensive land review looming, the county has expected to see an increase in such studies - and plans to consider them.

He said the housing industry is likely to present its own study this year to counter some of the findings in the American Farmland Trust study.

The land trust's board met Friday at Harford Glen on Wheel Road in Bel Air.

Miller also announced the purchase and preservation of 75 acres south of the corner of Onion and Harkins roads in the northwestern end of the county, which once belonged to Harford County native James R. Kelly Jr.

"This is a property that the trust will keep and make open to the public," Miller said.

Big Branch, a tributary of Deer Creek, flows through the property, which has a simple cabin and mature forest, Miller said.

The property was a weekend getaway for Kelly, who worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs before he died in December 2002, according to the trust's description of the land.

Kelly stipulated in his will that his cabin and property be kept for "education, conservation and recreational purposes only."

The land trust is buying the tract for $75,000, Miller said, and expects to settle in June. The group has raised $50,000 through challenge and matching grants, and is writing more grants to raise the remaining $25,000, Miller said.

Harford Land Trust was formed by residents in 1991.

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