How can Harford County protect its agricultural areas from Baltimore's sprawling development?

Last week, county planning and zoning officials turned to residents for what they hope can be answers.

County planners are in the early stages of establishing an agricultural land-use plan designed to limit development and encourage farmers to put their land in preservation programs.

The planners unveiled their ideas to about 35 citizens during a public information meeting at the Dublin Elementary School Thursday. A second meeting will be conducted tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Southampton Middle School, 1200 Moores Mill Road, Bel Air.

Those attending the meeting for the most part questioned how the proposals would work if adopted. But there were no major suggestions made for other alter natives to limit development. One suggested requiring developers to pay impact fees, and another said the county should start its own farm preservation program.

"We really do want your input," said Michael A. Paone, the county's agricultural planner. "We hope that you would give us your open and honest thoughts."

The agricultural land-use plan encompasses three main proposals -- cluster development, transfer of development rightsand village centers, as outlined by the planners.

Stoney Fraley, the county's chief of comprehensive planning, pointed out that the proposals are meant to be options -- not requirements -- for landownersin agricultural areas.

"We're not trying to dictate to you that you have to do it this way," Fraley said.

The proposals:

* Cluster development. Clustering would enable farmers to keep much of theirland in farming while still permitting them to sell some land for development, Paone said.

Under this proposal, developers could buildthe same number of houses permitted under standard zoning laws, but on a smaller tract of land, Paone said.

For example, a developer is permitted to build 10 houses on a 20-acre tract in the county's rural residential districts under current zoning laws.

But under a clustering program, developers could build 10 houses on a small portionof the 20-acre tract. The rest of the land would be undeveloped.

Paone said the county would most likely put a deed restriction on theopen land to prohibit it from being developed.

To make the clustering option available, the county would have to change its zoning andhealth regulations to allow houses to be built on smaller lots and septic systems on those lots, Paone said.

* Transfer of developmentrights. By allowing transfers of development rights (TDRs), the county would protect rural areas from development, concentrating growth in areas where it can be accommodated, Paone said.

This proposal would allow property owners in rural areas to sell their development rights to enable developers to build houses at higher densities in another area of the county, Paone said.

If this proposal is adopted, the county would have to establish "sending" and "receiving" areas, Paone said.

Sending areas would be rural sections of the county to be protected from development, and receiving areas would be sections that can accept growth, Paone said. These districts have not been determined yet.

The receiving areas -- where additional development would be permitted -- would most likely be near villages or the county's "development envelope," Paone said.

The development envelope is the area, shaped like an inverted T, stretching along the Route 24 corridor from Bel Air south and

along the Interstate 95 corridor from Joppatowne to Havre de Grace. Much of the county's intense developmentis located there.

The County Council asked the Department of Planning and Zoning in June to finish proposals for transfers of development rights by September 1992. Paone said the proposals should be finished before the deadline.

* Village centers. One way to protect rural areas from growth is to direct development near the county's existing communities, said county planner Irene Poulsen.

Communities like Jarrettsville, Darlington and Dublin are considered village centers, Poulsen said. These areas already have commercial development andpublic facilities, including schools.

The county will study thesecommunities to determine whether they can accommodate additional -- but limited -- growth, Poulsen said.

Paone noted that the village centers would be candidates for cluster development and receiving areas for transfers of development rights, depending on the outcome of the study.

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