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As Long as We Remember...

August 22, 2013

Nifty Proposal to Help Farmers

Blaine R. Young

Some of you may have seen an article in the local paper earlier this week about a matter the Frederick County Farm Bureau recently brought to the attention of the county government. I find it to be a very interesting issue, and one that is worthy of discussion.


As background, a few months ago the Farm Bureau submitted a request to the county that consideration be given to a proposed text amendment to the zoning ordinance to create an “Agricultural Rights Transfer Option.” Immediately, comparisons were made to a traditional transferable development right, or “TDR” mechanism, which is found in other, generally more urbanized, counties.


TDR’s have been discussed in Frederick County a number of times over the years. Each time, and I think rightfully so, the county has decided that they don’t really fit here. The most nearby and relevant example of a true TDR program is in Montgomery County. There, agricultural areas of the county are designated as “sending” areas, and more urbanized portions of the county are designated as “receiving” areas. Property in the sending areas can transfer to property owners in the receiving areas the right to additional development, and the receiving property owner can thereby increase the density of his or her development.


In Frederick County that really doesn’t work. In the first place, most of our more dense development is located within municipalities, using municipal facilities, and therefore a county program would not translate well into the cities and towns. Also, the growth areas in the unincorporated regions of the county are already dense enough. We don’t need to add density to these areas to have viable development.


Thus, the Farm Bureau came up with something different, and which represents some creative thinking. They have proposed a “Rural to Rural” transfer of development rights, which would impact agricultural land only. The idea would be that we would create no additional development rights at all. Agricultural properties under current law, and which law has been praised by the Maryland Department of Planning, have limited development rights. As it stands today, those rights must be utilized directly on the property that, under the ordinance, possesses such rights.


Under the Farm Bureau’s proposal, one farm owner could transfer his or her development rights to a different farm property. The receiving farm owner would be able to potentially realize more development on the receiving parcel, and the sending parcel would thereafter be barred from using the rights transferred out.


Thus, if two farms had four development rights each, one owner could send three of those rights to the other owner (they must retain one for a farm dwelling), and thereafter the receiving parcel could create seven lots, the sending parcel would have only one development right, and you would still have a total of eight potential home sites. No new development rights are created; they are just used in one place rather than two.


The Farm Bureau’s proposal also sets an absolute maximum density of one lot for every two acres, to ensure we are not talking about dense development, but typical rural one, two, three acre lots.


The Board of County Commissioners looked at the Farm Bureau’s proposal, and decided that at a minimum it merits consideration. A work group has been formed, which represents a broad array of interests in the community. The agricultural community is well represented on the work group, as is county staff and other interests.


I, for one, look forward to the recommendations from the work group. If we can come up with a plan where a farmer can unlock the value in what I have always called the “Farmer’s 401K Plan,” which is his land, and still keep it under agricultural production, it is an absolute win-win not only for the farmer, but for the county. We would be creating no additional development rights, merely giving agricultural landowners flexibility in where those rights would be utilized.


I will be very interested to see how this turns out.


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