En­viro man­ager talks con­ser­va­tion with plan­ning com­mis­sion

Trans­fer of devel­oper rights pro­gram con­tin­ues to grow

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

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.

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