Federal statistics and academic research demonstrate what common sense has known all along: Development rights are assets of significant value, and downzoning deprives farmers (and other rural landowners) of those assets. Indeed, government efforts to purchase protective easements demonstrate government's recognition of that value.
Next spring, when the new panel of commissioners takes up the final downzoning ordinance, the members will not be able to hide behind the false statements and obfuscations of Iseminger, Schnebly, Kienitz, and the state of Maryland. They'll have to consider honestly whether taking the assets of financially strapped farmers is the right way to pursue the noble goal of preserving the area's rural character. And we'll have to wonder, if they seize farmers' assets today, whose assets will they take tomorrow?
(The author will release the statistics, references, and computations used in this op/ed to all interested parties upon request.)
Thomas A. Firey is a Washington County native whose family operates a dairy farm near Clear Spring. He is managing editor of Regulation magazine, published by the Cato Institute (www.cato.org) and a fellow of the Maryland Public Policy Institute (www.mdpolicy.org). He can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.
Control, for our peace of mind
By Denise Troxell
Last Saturday morning, my friend Patty Sue and I were taking our weekly drive to a local nursing home where she wheels herself around dispensing mail, decorating, running Bingo and generally making a pest of herself to keep the patients smiling. Patty is one of the most direct people I know, and when we were almost there she said to me, "Denise, I read your column." She waited in silence so I, of course, asked her what she thought. She told me she liked my earlier series about my double lung transplant much better because she could follow it like a story. "I just don't understand this new stuff."
I chuckled and told her a lot of people probably feel the same way she does. Then I said, "I'm trying to save nature, Patty. I'm trying to keep life peaceful here."
I was there on Aug. 21 when the County Commissioners voted on the new Comprehensive Plan. Before and especially after they voted, there was quite a discussion about how to protect the land during the next two years before the actual zoning laws will go on the books. Planning Director Bob Arch, for the first time, told the commissioners that the planning department was noticing a substantial increase in smaller 20 home developments in what will become Conservation, Preservation and Agriculture zoned land, especially in the southern part of the county, which borders Frederick County.
He suggested that a moratorium might be in order for proposals of anything larger than five-lot developments outside of the proposed growth area around Hagerstown. I would support that, except for the fact that we are in a critical water shortage that should forbid all large developments anywhere. Commission President Greg Snook spoke up and said that it may not be necessary because, due to the drought, the Health Department has suspended perc testing for new septic tanks.
A hydrologist for another county told me weeks ago that most of the other counties in Maryland had stopped perc testing many months ago and that anything that had passed a perc test here this year should be suspect, because if the water table ever comes back they may be floating. If our county has not stopped them, the MD Health Department should be notified.
I have learned that there were serious droughts here in the 1930's and 1960's, but never until now have so many old wells gone dry. Less than a mile from our home, five wells are dry, all at older farmhouses, including ours. How many wells have been drilled for new homes in Washington County since the 60s drought? Do you think there might be a connection?