Enviro manager talks conservation with planning commission
Transfer of developer rights program continues to grow
Land conservation and preservation have been major talking points both outside and inside the Charles County Government with the county’s comprehensive plan zoning process under way.
And on Monday, the planning commission talk- ed more about how the county is being preserved and the different ways and methods officials and citi- zens are preserving it.
Charles Rice, the county’s environmental program manager, said the county has three ways of protecting and maintaining its land.
The three programs the county uses, he said, are the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation foundation, transfer of developer rights agreements and
the county’s rural legacy program.
“They’re the ones most widely used and most widely funded from the county,” Rice said.
A majority of the county’s active farmland is protected by the agricultural land pres- ervation foundation, Rice said. The foundation purchases ag- ricultural land preservation easements and restricts devel- opment on its prime farmland and woodland.
The foundation has preserved more than 300,000 acres on 2,218 farms in the state, Rice said. In Charles County, there are 47 properties under the foundation with a total of 7,486 acres, he noted.
“Most of them are in the southern part of the county, especially south of Route 6,” Rice said. “What we generally term as Cobb Neck, a majority of the county’s active farm- land is in that section of the county.”
Another common method for preservation, Rice said, is the county’s transfer of devel- oper rights between citizens or between the county gov- ernment and citizens.
However, Rice said, these transfers are “heavily depen- dent on the economy and development activity.” Year to year, it is difficult to tell how many transfers there could be and what land will be involved, he said. Since its inception in 1995, he said, the program saw the most activity between 2005 and 2008.
The county recently adopt- ed a purchase of development rights program, he said, in which the county created a market for the purchase of development rights from des- ignated rural areas if a land owner applies for a purchase.
“The purpose of that is to supplement the private mar- ket and to try and also stabi- lize the value of them,” Rice said.
A transfer of developer rights is typically around $5,000, Rice said, but has gone up as high as $20,000 during the 2005 to 2008 period. The government’s purchase of developer rights would help keep the market stable, he noted.
The county has put out a call for applications to proper- ty owners looking to transfer their developer rights, Rice said. The county then ranks their applications by price. The lower the price an appli- cant asks for, the higher their rank is.
The county can now issue contracts to applicants, Rice said, based on a cap number set by the Charles County Board of Commissioners.
“Offers will be made to some of the lowest asking prices,” Rice said. “In the application, the applicant is asked what they’re willing to accept for a transfer of development rights. They may be willing to take less knowing that that will give them a leg up in the ranking.”
Planning Commissioner Richard Viohl Jr. asked whether the county could partially preserve land through a purchase of developer rights.
“In the past, years ago, it used to be if you got to a certain threshold then you were locked in,” Viohl said.
But Rice said that was a provision that was discussed but never certified. In the private market, that is not in the zoning ordinance yet. But that is included in the comprehensive plan, he said.
Steve Ball, the county’s director of planning, said the program’s success and growth has much to do with Rice’s efforts to find state funding and gain support on policies regarding development rights transfers.
“We don’t get a chance to blow our horn on it that much, but I would rank it with anyone’s conservation efforts,” he said.