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State dislikes local land provision

October 13, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A provision in a proposed Washington County agricultural preservation ordinance that would allow property owners to buy back the development rights of their land is drawing fire from the state.

State and federal funding for agricultural land preservation "would likely be dramatically curtailed or eliminated" if the provision stands, according to information provided by the county.

County Land Preservation Administrator Eric Seifarth told the County Commissioners at Tuesday's meeting that he recently received word of the state's position.

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The provision is part of the proposed Installment Purchase Program Ordinance. The ordinance would allow the county to acquire the development rights of land upfront through preservation easements, but then pay the property owners for the purchases over a 10-year-period.

The county would pay 10 percent of the preservation easement's value each year for 10 years, along with 3 percent interest each year.

County officials have said the Installment Purchase Program would speed up the preservation of agricultural land.

The provision in question would allow property owners to buy back the development rights after 25 years.

Seifarth said the state prefers to fund permanent, rather than temporary, easements.

"I don't particularly like the state telling us what to do, but this is the deal," Seifarth said.

The commissioners said Tuesday they would like to speak with state officials before voting on the ordinance.

"I suspect, in the end, we'll probably have to remove it," Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said Wednesday of the provision.

The county plans to spend $5.2 million to purchase the development rights of 12 properties. The easements on the 12 properties will cover about 1,500 acres.

With those 1,500 acres, the county will have preserved nearly 21,000 acres from development. The county's goal is to preserve 50,000 acres.

Landowners who apply to have their properties included in the program must meet certain qualifications, such as soil, size and location criteria, according to information provided by the county.

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