Harford seeks to bring up to 725 acres into agricultural preservation

Harford County wants to put up to 725 acres of land into agricultural preservation, a purchase that would ultimately cost more than $3 million.

The County Council introduced bills Tuesday to put five properties, running the gamut from Whiteford to Fallston and Bel Air, into the county's ag preservation program, chief William Amoss said.

The actual acreage on the requested plats is closer to 600, but Amoss explained the county covers itself by requesting a slightly higher number.

The county has not put land into its ag preservation program since 2012 because funding to buy area farms has typically been hard to come by.

The purchase would mean the land would be dedicated as open space.

"They still own the land. We are just taking away the potential to subdivide [and develop the property]," Amoss said, explaining that means fewer services the county has to provide.

Harford accumulated about $2 million in that two-year period, Amoss said. The revenue came from the real estate transfer tax, after the county serviced debt, he said.

The county plans to pay for the properties with a multi-year Installment Purchase Agreement, at 1 percent principal annually, he explained.

Besides the transfer tax revenues, Harford is also buying a treasury note that would give it total buying power of up to $4 million, he said.

The county would be buying up to 130 acres at 4437 Prospect Road in Whiteford from George Miller and Rita Miller for a maximum price of $573,000; up to 125 acres at 2018 Pleasantville Road in Fallston from Willard Amoss and Linda Amoss for a maximum price of $574,800; up to 200 acres at Thomas Run Road at Cool Branch Road from Fay Enfield Barrow for a maximum price of $973,184; up to 130 acres at Route 543 just north of the county's Emergency Operations Center from Jeanne Carolyn Barrow for a maximum price of $620,963; up to 140 acres from Ed Grimmel and Grimmel Farms at 3754 Federal Hill Road in Jarrettsville for a maximum price of $624,000.

The properties would go a long way toward the 37 farms the county has lined up to possibly buy eventually.

"All these five farms are very productive farms. Developers would like to get ahold of them, that's for sure," Amoss said. "The prices are wonderful for us because it's certainly a lot less than what we paid before."

"It's a win-win situation for everybody," he said.

The county does not perform appraisals on potential land to be put into preservation but instead uses a ranking system taking into account factors like soil quality.

Harford already has 48,000 acres in preservation and finding new agricultural properties is getting more difficult, Amoss said.

"It's getting harder and harder to talk landowners into it because there is less farms remaining," he said.

He predicted, however, that more funding would be freed up in the future from the transfer tax because the county will have paid off more debt.

Although the county has other preservation programs it promotes, such as state initiatives, "people really like the county program because it is local," Amoss said. "These are really nice, productive farms."

A public hearing on the bill is set for 6:30 p.m. on May 6 in the council chambers.

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