www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/ellicott-city/ph-ho-cf-mullinix-farm-1206-20121206,0,4389240.story

baltimoresun.com

Howard farm board recommends against bid to end preservation

By Blair Ames, bames@tribune.com

12:56 PM EST, November 30, 2012

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A Howard County board comprised of local farmers has voted unanimously to recommend the County Council and the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation deny the easement termination sought by the Mullinix Brothers Partnership, a west county farm family.

The Agricultural Land Preservation Board voted Nov. 25 against the Mullinix applications to terminate easements with the state preservation foundation on three of their farms.

The first step following a Nov. 15 public hearing on the application, the board's recommendation is now forwarded to the county executive's office, according to Joy Levy, administrator of the Howard County Agricultural Land Preservation Program.

The county executive will then introduce legislation to the county council with its recommendation on the application, she said.

Levy said the hope is the legislation will be filed in December for a January introduction and a vote in February. The council's decision is then forwarded to the state preservation foundation, which makes the final decision.

The Mullinixes are attempting to terminate their easements, arguing that farming on their property is no longer profitable.

Reached by telephone Friday, Mike Mullinix said the family had no comment on the board's recommendation or how it might affect their application.

By terminating the easement, the Mullinixes would be able to develop their property in any way that their rural conservation zoning allows — which, they say, would give them more flexibility in how they could use about 490 of their more than 600 acres. The Mullinixes are the first farmers in Maryland to seek a termination from the 35-year-old state easement program.

Sean Hough, chairman of the county land preservation board, said the board voted to recommend denial of the application based upon five criteria in a county policy passed in 2007 regarding the termination of state easements.

The criteria includes considering the effect of termination on county preservation, growth management and agricultural economic development policies, along with the effect on surrounding properties and an evaluation of how valuable the property is.

Hough said the Mullinix properties did not meet any of the criteria, and noted that Howard County has had a long history of preservation.

"It [agricultural preservation] is a high priority of the PlanHoward 2030 process that the county is going through now," he said.

Regarding the effect on surrounding properties, Hough said the Murray Farm in Mount Airy, under consideration to be terminated from an easement, is about 80 percent surrounded by preserved farmland.

"If you were to pull that out of preservation you would create a doughnut hole, surrounded by preserved land," he said.

Under the easement program, the state pays farmers a certain amount per acre, in exchange for which farmers are barred from developing their land for commercial, industrial and residential uses. Any easements approved prior to 2004 have the option of applying for termination after 25 years. The first of the Mullinix easements reached the 25-year mark in 2006.