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$700,000 available to preserve Franklin Co. farmland

May 17, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - More than $700,000 will be available this year for farmland preservation in Franklin County, according to county officials.

The money includes $140,000 budgeted by the county in 1999, plus matching funds of $579,919 from the Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board, according to G. Warren Elliott, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners.

The county's contribution is up $25,000 from last year. The state match, announced this week, is up $78,000.

County Senior Planner Sherri Clayton said there are 55 farms totaling 7,718 acres on the waiting list to be considered for preservation. Since the program began a decade ago, the county has bought the development rights to 18 farms totaling 2,660 acres.

That's slightly more than 1 percent of the agricultural land now in use in the county, said Clayton. She said there are approximately 1,400 farms totaling 250,000 acres.

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That's down from about 1,500 farms and 255,000 acres in 1991, she said.

Clayton said the paperwork could be completed by July for the county to purchase the easements on two more farms. Elliott said the county plans to enroll 10 farms with more than 1,000 acres this year.

To enroll in the program, a farm must have at least 50 contiguous acres, have a soil conservation plan and be in an "agricultural security area." The security areas are districts in which farms are protected from certain nuisance ordinances that could hinder normal farming operations.

The cost of purchasing development rights is the estimated difference between the land's value as farmland and its estimated value if developed. The average has been about $1,350 an acre, according to Elliott.

The matching funds from the state come from a 3-cent tax on cigarette sales.

Not all preservation efforts in the county involve the purchase of development rights. The county is updating its comprehensive plan for the first time in two decades with an emphasis on controlling development.

The plan does not have the effect of law but is designed to serve as a guide to municipalities and developers. One goal is to reuse existing industrial and commercial sites and revitalize urban residential areas to ease development pressure on rural areas.

The plan also recommends funneling residential and commercial development into areas already served by municipal water and sewer systems because more houses can be placed on less land.

Pennsylvania is second in the nation to Maryland in farmland preservation, according to Elliott, a member of the state Agricultural Land Preservation Board. Statewide, 1,065 farms with 133,700 acres have been preserved.

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