Farm on Deer Creek won't be developed

91-acre site placed in state's Rural Legacy preservation program

May 27, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Andrew "Chap" Cummings has lived his 90 years in the same historic Harford County home overlooking Deer Creek, and he has worked the land for most of his life.

"From every window he looks out, he has a fabulous view of the creek and the valley," said his daughter, Susan Cummings of Bowie.

To preserve that view and safeguard the land along Sandy Hook Road in Street from encroaching residential development, Andrew Cummings has placed all 91.5 acres in the state's Rural Legacy program.

"Dad was born there, worked hard all his life there, and he wants to keep this land in farming," his daughter said. "This has always been a working farm, and it has stood the test of time."

The Rural Legacy program, enacted in 1997 to counter suburban sprawl and protect natural resources, provides local jurisdictions with money to purchase easements from landowners in exchange for assurances that the land will not be sold for development. The state paid $1.1 million for the development rights on Cummings' farm.

"It was nice to get this approved because we are sure a state budget crackdown is looming," said William D. Amoss, manager of the county's agricultural and historic preservation program. "This is a wonderful property with a lot of water frontage, something the state likes to see in these preservation applications."

About 60 percent of the Lower Deer Creek Valley is preserved in state and county programs. Of the nearly 20,000 acres in preserved farms and parkland, 1,542 acres are part of Rural Legacy.

"This is a good program that is really helping to protect the Deer Creek watershed," said Pat Pudelkewicz, a Harford planner and project manager for a recently completed two-year study of the 86,000-acre watershed. "Every piece of property is important to that effort."

The settlement reserves 2 acres of the Cummings farm for a small county park and a possible canoe launch, Amoss said. Situated between the road and creek, the spot offers enough room for a dock, parking and restrooms.

"It will make it easy for people to get into and out of the creek," Amoss said.

Interest in preserving Harford's agricultural heritage is building, Amoss said. He is reviewing 60 applications - one for an 800-acre farm - this year, up from 14 last year.

"We have done a lot of outreach and a lot of talking to landowners about the benefits of preservation," he said.

Prices for easements have risen and might reach as high as $11,000 an acre this year, an increase of about $3,500.

The Cummings farm could have yielded about a dozen residential building lots, Amoss said.

"Now there will only be Chap Cummings' house sitting atop that hill," he said.

For decades, Cummings ran a dairy operation and raised crops on the farm that his father had bought in 1909. He worked long days before scaling back to a small herd of beef cattle. With his wife, Dorothy, now deceased, he raised two children there. His son, Tom, resides in Forest Hill.

"My brother and I felt strongly that this land should not be developed," Susan Cummings said. "It really is a jewel wrapped in an arm of Deer Creek. We think of it as a wonderful gift to Harford County."

Margaret Niland, executive director of the Harford Land Trust, a nonprofit land-preservation group, said such decisions are "life-altering for families because the property is preserved in perpetuity. You have to have a mindset that you want to leave a mark for others to enjoy forever."

Long retired, Andrew Cummings leases the land to neighboring farmers but still lives in the home, which dates to 1798. His daughter traced the farmhouse history to a 1798 tax document in which it was named Spittlecraft, old English for "haven," she said.

Preserving the farm preserves her family's history, Susan Cummings said.

"You can't fight development," she said. "We are just glad that the state and county have come up with ways to preserve property."

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