Com­mis­sion­ers pon­der clos­ing PAR pro­gram

Ques­tion vi­a­bil­ity, ta­ble TDR de­bate for the new board

The Calvert Recorder - - Front Page - By TA­MARA WARD [email protected]­

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.calvert­coun­­u­men­tCen­ter/View/21158.

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