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Jefferson County landowners add 184 acres to farmland protection program

June 14, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — This month, two more Jefferson County landowners added 184 acres to the county’s farmland protection program, bringing the total number of acres saved from developers to 2,615.

The latest additions represent the 27th and 28th conservation easements completed by the county’s Farmland Protection Board since it was established in 2000, said Elizabeth Wheeler, the program’s administrator.

Laurie L. Scott of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., added 49 acres off Engle Molers Road. The Hockman family — Judith, Gordon and Margaret Ann Saunders — owners of Twin Ridge Orchard Co. on Luther Jones Road, added 135 acres.

Wheeler said this month’s acquisition of the Hockman property is the third conservation easement for the family. The family signed the first one in December 2009 for 37 acres and the second, in March, added 112 acres.

“Another 868 acres are in the pipeline and we have applications for 533 more,” Wheeler said.

Conservation easements are a flexible legal tool that enable landowners to permanently protect agricultural, natural, scenic and historic property from development, Wheeler said. Owners retain full use of the property and the easements are transferred when the property is sold.

The county’s share of the cost of acquiring land for the program comes from real estate transfer taxes, a source that has become less reliable due to the housing slump.

The Farmland Protection Board pays the owner the difference between the land’s value as farmland — $2,500 to $3,000 per acre — and its development value — $7,500 to $8,000 per acre.

Landowners sometimes donate all or part of the acreage going into the protection program. The money saved allows the board to spend it on other easements.

Private donations also are accepted, Wheeler said.

Scott said in a press release that her land has been farmed since the early 1800s. She owns a riding stable, and raises sheep and goats.

“The property has always been farmed, and now the easement protects it against any other use,” she said.

“Our family is pleased to be involved in a program that allows us to protect our farmland and preserve natural landscapes for the community,” Judith Hockman said in the release.

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