County eyes changes to areas to be given priority for preservation funding

February 09, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS |

Washington County is considering changes to the areas that will be given priority consideration for agricultural land preservation funding, Senior Planner Jill Baker said Tuesday.

The changes are being proposed at the request of the Maryland Department of Planning, which decided in a recent review that the county's Priority Preservation Areas were too fragmented, leaving out some land in between existing easements, Baker said.

Planning staff members have revised the map to address that concern, raising the total priority preservation area from 40,000 acres to almost 75,000 acres, she said.

Most of that additional acreage is already preserved in some form, so county planners thought priority status was unnecessary, but the state disagreed, Baker said.

The changes would be made to the Priority Preservation Element of the county's Comprehensive Plan. That section of the plan was added in response to a 2006 state law making it a requirement for additional preservation funding, and the state recently completed a review of the newly added section, Baker said.

During a public hearing Tuesday, David Herbst of Smithsburg testified in favor of the changes.

Jerry Ditto of Clear Spring also spoke of his overarching concerns about how agricultural land preservation is handled.

"We're going down a path here that we're going to restrict development but we're not going to compensate anyone for it, and that upsets me as a landowner," Ditto said.

Ditto has been a vocal advocate for a system of "transferable development rights" in which developers in urban areas buy the right to denser development by compensating rural land owners for accepting a lower development allowance.

The commissioners took no action Tuesday on the proposed priority preservation area changes.

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