Thursday, March 02, 2006

Upping the ante

County Executive James Robey is proposing an increase in the amount of money the county offers rural landowners for their development rights, partially in response to the likely high costs of preserving Doughoregan Manor.

Robey (D) said last week that the county should be allowed to pay up to $40,000 an acre for development rights on farmland, close to what developers pay farmers for building rights in the county's rural west. That would make Howard's maximum payment among the highest in the country, according to county and state officials.

The County Council will consider Robey's proposal during a March 20 public hearing and might vote on the resolution in April.

Robey's proposal comes as county officials, working with the state, are trying to preserve all or a large portion of Doughoregan Manor, an 892-acre estate west of Ellicott City that's the ancestral home of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Richard Talkin, the Ellicott City attorney representing the Carroll family, which owns the estate, has urged the county to double what it is willing to pay to preserve at least 600 acres of Doughoregan, which lies south of Old Frederick Road and west of Folly Quarter Road.

Robey said his effort to increase the maximum payment goes beyond Doughoregan. He said he's also trying to deal with the fact that farmers are no longer placing their land in the county's agricultural preservation program and instead selling it to developers.

"We haven't had property come into the program since 2002," he said. "We do this or give the whole thing up and walk away."

No takers in four years? I'd say it's probably time to sweeten the deal. And, apparently, the county council, or at least a majority of it's members, agrees.

A majority of the Howard County Council said this week that they will support an initiative by County Executive James Robey to double the maximum per-acre amount the county government can spend to preserve farmland.

Although I'm still in favor of transferable development rights (and have even heard rumblings about such a program) that would allow landowners to preserve their land and force developers in other parts of the county (cough, GGP, cough) to buy additional density if they want it, I am more in favor preserving our dwindling supply of farmland, regardless of how it's done.

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