Struggling farm families look to Balto. Co. preservation help

Balto. Co. puts 132 acres on the fast track

December 17, 2010|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

Two families in financial distress are asking Baltimore County to buy the development rights to their farms so they can preserve them as agricultural land, a county official said.

Owners of the two separate tracts, comprising nearly 132 acres in Cockeysville and Maryland Line, have qualified for a six-year-old program designed to preserve land that faces an immediate threat of being sold for some non-agricultural use, said Wally Lippincott, natural resource manager for the county Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management. The applications for preservation — which if approved would cost the county $950,000 — are to be considered by the County Council on Monday.

Lippincott said the 45-acre tract on Knox Avenue near Falls Road in Cockeysville, called Branchwater Farms, has been run as a beef cattle operation by William and Doreen Suchting. Lippincott said William Suchting is seriously ill and the family is concerned that medical expenses could make it difficult for them to keep the land as a farm.

Family illness, Lippincott said, is "enough of a litmus test" to show an urgent need to protect the land, lest expenses force it to be sold. The property is valuable, he said, pointing to its good soil and its location near Oregon Ridge Park and more developed areas.

"We like to shore up those edges against suburban development," Lippincott said.

William Suchting declined to comment for this article. The owners of the Maryland Line property, Glenda and Elmer Price, could not be reached.

The Prices lease more than 86 acres on Freeland Road near the Pennsylvania border to farmers who grow corn and soybeans, Lippincott said. Now, with Glenda Price's mother in a nursing home, the "Prices need the income to keep up payments for care," Lippincott said.

He said the Price farm is "relatively large," as preservation grants average 75 to 80 acres. Department inspectors "ranked it very highly" for quality, he said.

The so-called "Imminently Threatened Farm Preservation Program" allows the county to buy development rights more quickly than it could under other preservation rules. These would be the ninth and 10th properties to be preserved under the program since it was established in 2004.

Farm preservation efforts began in the county under the Maryland Environmental Trust in 1974 and have since expanded to five state and county programs. The county usually preserves between 1,500 and 2,000 acres a year, although Lippincott said the total looks as if it's going to be lower this year.

About 56,000 acres are in some form of agricultural preservation, almost all of it outside the Urban Rural Demarcation Line that was established in the 1960s as the boundary for public water and sewer service. The county's current master plan calls for preserving "at least 80,000 acres of agricultural and natural resource lands," and projects that goal will be met by 2022.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

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