Land preservation prevails

13 property owners to join programs protecting farms from development

43,000 county acres now shielded

January 20, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

After a lifetime in farming, 67-year-old Andrew Lohr wants to retire. He probably could sell his nearly 100-acre farm in Churchville for development but instead accepted an offer from Harford County.

Lohr will place the property in Harford's agricultural preservation program.

"I am putting all the land I own in preservation, in perpetuity," he said. "Perpetuity, I like that word."

Lohr is one of 13 property owners who will join the Harford or state preservation programs this year. The County Council is considering an additional 10 farms for preservation and is expected to approve those next month.

The county will pay about $21 million, an average of about $10,500 per acre, to add more than 2,000 acres to preservation programs this year, bringing to more than 43,000 acres the total safeguarded from development.

"We have to commend the county's commitment to this very worthy function," said Councilwoman Veronica "Roni" L. Chenowith, after the council approved the preservation resolutions Tuesday. "For those who don't think we are serious, we are paying $21.4 million for 2,013 acres."

Lohr will be paid slightly more than $1 million in exchange for the development rights. The agreement means his land will remain a farm long into the future.

His desire to save the land was coupled with a request from his daughter and son-in-law, both also lifelong farmers.

"My daughter wants to stay in farming," he said. "If not for the fact that the next generation wants to farm, I might not have preserved it."

Although several surrounding farms are in the program, there is pressure from development, he said.

"With this program, my daughter won't be hassled by developers," he said.

With the council's approval of the agreements, the county will conduct a title search on each property. The owners must complete a land survey before the transfers are settled. That could be a daunting task for some whose properties have original surveys that date to the 1700s, said William D. Amoss, manager of the county's agricultural preservation program.

This has been a banner year for the preservation program, which is funded with money from real estate transfer taxes, Amoss said. With the housing market in a downturn, those funds might not be as readily available next year, he said.

"We decided to use all the financial reserves we had," Amoss said. "There could be significantly less funds next year."

Harford faces increasing pressure for development because of the expansion at Aberdeen Proving Ground, officials said. The base is expected to grow by about 10,000 jobs as part of the nationwide military base realignment known as BRAC.

"Once the housing market turns around, and it will, we would be kicking ourselves if we had not gotten these farms into preservation," Amoss said. "We will lose our chance, once land prices start escalating."

Amoss has a waiting list of applicants. He remains optimistic that Harford will reach its goal of preserving 55,000 acres by 2012.

"I think farm owners are seeing the positives from everybody who has gone before them into preservation," he said. "Or, maybe they just got tired of me calling them and talking about preservation for 20 years. It really is all about timing."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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