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News Opinion

Howard council should override Ulman's land preservation bill veto

As President of the Howard County Chapter of the Homebuilders Association of Maryland (HBAM), I would like to respond to Howard County Executive Ken Ulman's recent veto of County Council Bill 37, the growth tier map ("Ulman vetoes land preservation bill," Dec. 16).

Members of HBAM, the farming community and a broad coalition of citizens worked closely with the County Council to craft a tier map that would continue to support the successful Density Exchange Option (DEO) program, which has led in part to the preservation of more than 21,600 acres of land in agricultural easements and thousands of additional acres preserved under environmental and other easements. This program has enhanced preservation of farmland while allowing responsible residential construction to continue.

Our coalition partners believe the map, approved by the County Council, actually provides more opportunity for land preservation than the Ulman administration's map. The County Council tier map allows one of the best density exchange land preservation programs ever implemented to continue to function. Farmers, land owners and environmentalists alike know that the reason why Howard County has been successful in its land preservation efforts is because its program motivates land owners to preserve their land by giving them an "equitable" alternative to development.

The administration's map, which was not endorsed by the Maryland Department of Planning, takes away the right to develop through regulation. Our association understands that even if landowners are not planning to develop, their land still has a value, which is based largely on its development potential. Simply put, when your right to develop is taken away, your land value decreases.

The Ulman administration would lead you to believe that a land owner can make up for the loss of development value by selling density. However, the administration's map creates a situation where most everyone is selling density, with very few buyers, which drops density values dramatically. Once the value of density diminishes, the motivation to preserve land diminishes as well.

HBAM members have testified during public hearings that a significant number of the potential lots zoned RC, or Tier 4 under the Ulman map, have been "grandfathered" for development through the Health Department. We believe that the County Council's map would restore an "equitable" option for those grandfathered lots to preserve their land value, whereas the administration's map would force those grandfathered parcels to develop, since they would no longer have an "equitable" option to preserve.

Our association members and the broad coalition of others have worked very hard with the County Council to create a map that not only keeps the County's successful DEO Program in place but also respects property rights and motivates land preservation. We are extremely proud of the County Council's effort to balance the county's desire for more land preservation with the rights of land owners whose livelihoods are at stake and we will continue to work with our partners and the Council to override this veto.

Jeremy Rutter, Lisbon

The writer is president of the Howard County chapter of the Homebuilders Association of Maryland.

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