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Program to preserve Washington County farmland presented to commissioners

February 20, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Rural landowners would be able to sell the development rights on their property to other county landowners under a program presented Tuesday to the Washington County Commissioners.

The transferable development rights (TDR) program would permanently preserve agricultural land by allowing the owner of that land to sell its development rights to landowners in areas where development is expected to occur.

Those in favor of the program say it has preserved thousands of acres of farmland in other Maryland counties and note that it does so with private money instead of tax dollars.

But the logistics of creating a TDR program could prove difficult in Washington County. Urban growth largely occurs in and around the City of Hagerstown, and the city has said it has no interest in participating in a TDR program.

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Under a TDR program, portions of the county would be designated as "sending areas," or areas from which development rights could be transferred.

Property owners in those areas, which would largely be comprised of farmland, could agree not to develop their property and could sell that right to other property owners in "receiving areas," or portions of the county where growth likely will occur.

Landowners in sending areas would have the option of selling their development rights, but would not be required to do so.

Likewise, property owners in receiving areas could develop their land without acquiring TDRs but could do so at a higher density under the program.

The program could preserve as many as 115,473 acres in Washington County, according to the report.

In its final report to the county commissioners, a consultant group identified three receiving areas where development rights could be transferred:

· The unincorporated urban growth areas surrounding the City of Hagerstown and its larger municipalities

· A 1/4-mile fringe around those areas

· A 1/4-mile fringe around the county's rural villages

Of the 298,851 acres of land in Washington County, more than 34,000 acres are in one of those three areas, according to the report. Most of that land is around the City of Hagerstown.

Hagerstown Planning Director Kathleen A. Maher said Tuesday that a TDR program would strain the city's sewer system.

"We already don't have enough capacity to serve the existing densities. I'm not sure how it would be practical to increase that density," Maher said.

The commissioners did not make a decision on the program Tuesday and offered few comments.

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said he is concerned that increasing the density of development around the county's urban growth area will stress the county's water and sewer capacity.

"Where are we going to get the infrastructure when the sewer capacity and water availability doesn't exist?" Aleshire asked.

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