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Farmland preserved by owners, Jefferson County

December 26, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Steep cliffs rise up from the Potomac River to the edge of the 94-acre property, creating a stunning landscape.

Other parts of the property are made up of heavily wooded areas and prime farmland, which allowed owner Eugene Olcott and his wife, Margaret, to run a beef cattle operation.

"It doesn't get any better than this," Eugene Olcott said, describing the property he and his wife have owned for 30 years. "You sit there and you're sort of entranced with this. It's a good place to meditate."

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Olcott said he has nothing against residential growth, but he said he couldn't allow the property to be dotted with homes.

"It's just too good for that," he said.

The Olcotts and two conservation groups finalized a deal on Monday that will ensure the Olcott farm will be preserved.

The Olcotts received $100,600 in exchange for agreeing not to develop the land, said Roger Dailey, chairman of the Jefferson County Farmland Protection Board.

The 94 acres the Olcotts own is a portion of their 215-acre farm. It is situated in a bend on the Potomac River adjacent to the Cress Creek Golf and Country Club.

The land will be preserved through a conservation easement, Dailey said. No matter who owns the property, it never can be developed because the conservation easement is spelled out in the deed for the property, Olcott said.

It will be up to the Jefferson County Farmland Protection Board and the Potomac Conservancy to make sure the property is not developed, Olcott said.

It is the first piece of farmland the Jefferson County Farmland Protection Board has set aside for preservation.

With concern mounting about the amount of farmland being lost to development, the West Virginia Legislature passed a bill that allows counties to set up farmland protection boards. The boards now exist in each of Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties.

Under the effort, farmers can be paid money in exchange for agreeing to save farmland under a protective easement.

Money to pay farmers can come from a variety of sources, including tax revenue and private sources, county officials have said.

The money used to preserve the Olcott property came from private donations and a county transfer tax, Dailey said.

A property transfer tax is a tax that is generated when a piece of real estate is sold.

The Jefferson County Commission agreed to increase the transfer tax to the maximum allowable rate of $6.60 per $1,000 of land value. The county had been receiving about $4.40 per $1,000 of land value.

The tax increase was expected to generate about $600,000 per year for farmland protection, officials have said.

The Olcotts have three children, but none of them are interesting in carrying on the beef farm, Olcott said.

"The problem is, you can't make a nickel," he said.

The Jefferson County Farmland Protection Board and the Potomac Conservancy are co-holders of the easement for the Olcott farm, Dailey said.

The Potomac Conservancy is a land trust organization that is involved in a number of programs, including watershed protection programs.

There are five other farm properties in Jefferson County that are being worked on for protection, Dailey said. The farmland protection board in Berkeley County is working on several farmland protection projects, but none have been finalized, Dailey said.

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