Commissioners ponder closing PAR program
Question viability, table TDR debate for the new board
Calvert’s commissioners hijacked a Tuesday afternoon work session intended to set Purchase and Retirement Fund prices and put into motion the county’s purchase of transferable development rights for the purpose of land preservation.
Before the Department of Planning and Zoning staff’s presentation could begin, the commissioners challenged at length the viability of the TDR program, pondered ending the PAR program and ultimately decided to table any discussion until the new board is sworn in.
“What legal obligation are we under to continue to this program?” Commissioner Mike Hart (R) asked, noting several times his discomfort with the purchasing of TDRs with taxpayers’ money and that the original intent of the program was for businesses to buy TDRs.
Even though he was confident there were enough votes on the current board to close out the program, Commissioners’ President Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said it would be better to allow the next board to take on the issue.
County Attorney John Norris initially said the program will continue until the board decides otherwise, but later noted that to modify the PAR program, a public hearing is needed.
Established in 1992 by a prior board, the PAR Fund is used to purchase, retire and permanently remove TDRs from the development rights market, with the goal
of protecting additional farmland acres from development.
TDRs are a land use mechanism that employ techniques to deter development in certain communities for the purpose of preservation and to promote development in other communities designated for growth.
Historically, the Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board recommends a purchase price per TDR for a fiscal cycle and recommends the commissioners purchase a set number of TDRs per applicant, starting at the highest-ranked applicant and proceeding down the list until funding is exhausted.
Commissioners’ Vice President Tom Hejl (R) argued the county is not getting anything for the money spent.
“The county is getting nothing tangible, but the county is allegedly getting the rural character,” Slaughenhoupt said, to which Commissioner Steve Weems (R) added “subjective value.”
“We’ve heard all that rural stuff before, but we’re getting nothing,” Hejl said. “If I’m a developer and I am buying those TDRs, I’m getting something.”
Commissioner Pat Nutter (R) said that when the program started, TDRs were investments and established in good faith, but expressed concern that the price to purchase and retire for the county is different than the price for a developer.
“It is in fact two different prices,” rural planner Ronald Marney said. “While the market rate is totally subjective, you can pay as little or as much as two people are willing to agree to. It could be zero. [It] could be 10,000” dollars.
Nutter and Hart asked if all the TDRs are purchased how much land the county would save and how much it would cost.
Planning and Zoning Director Mark Willis said there are 8,570 certified TDRs available and there are 23 Agriculture Preservation Districts not yet certified, but estimates the number at 3,500. He will not know for sure until the APD owners come forward to certify their TDRs.
An APD occurs when a landowner certifies TDRs by determining the number and ownership of existing TDRs on a given property.
“If we just say there is 10,000 out there and we certify everything … at today’s rate that would be $37,500,000,” Willis estimated, based on the current par price of $3,750, which was set in September 2017.
Slaughenhoupt asked what number of farmers would realize the $37.5 million, to which Willis responded there are currently 508 APDs.
“The top 10 holders of APDs would total 12,083 TDRs,” Willis said.
“You’re still talking about $37 million in tax dollars going to a relatively smaller number of citizens compared to the 90,000 citizens that are here now,” Slaughenhoupt said.
For the 2019 par cycle, the APAB recommended a purchase price of $5,500 per TDR be set, which would be in excess of Willis’ estimate. The total funds available for the fiscal 2019 PAR cycle is $3,385,000, which, if approved, would retire 615 TDRs.
The initial PAR price in 1993 was $2,320. The highest PAR price was $8,500 in 2009.
Staff documents list the advisory board’s reasoning behind the recommendation of $5,500 as it is a “better reflection of the actual difference in value for land owners and that by adopting this rate the County will see higher participation in PAR and therefore more agricultural land preserved.”
“You know where the trap falls? You do it today and you have to do it ‘til Jesus comes back,” Hart said, stressing the county’s need to evolve.
Nutter entered the motioned to table the topic to a future date under the new board. Weems seconded the motion, which passed 4-1. Hejl opposed tabling the motion because he desired to take immediate action.
For more information on the history of the PAR program or Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board recommendation, go to http://www.calvertcountymd.gov/DocumentCenter/View/21158.