UM drops plan to sell farm development rights


In a setback for Howard County's farmland preservation program, the University of Maryland has backed away from its plan to sell the government development rights to its 900-acre research farm in the heart of the county.

Ray Miller, vice chancellor for agriculture and natural resources, said yesterday that "it became very obvious that certain political forces are not interested in funds going from one governmental agency to another." He declined to elaborate.

In addition, he said, the university was informed by its lawyers that the county's farmland preservation program might place restrictions on future expansion of the university's Central Maryland Farm Research and Education Center.

John W. Musselman, administrator of the county's farmland preservation program, said he was disappointed with the university's decision.

The county was to buy the development rights to the farm for an estimated $20 million, which would have been paid to the university over 30 years.

"The university's central farm is a key part of the county's goal to preserve 30,000 acres of farmland, because it is in the heart of the county," Mr. Musselman said.

However, he said he was confident the university might reconsider sometime in the future, adding that he believed that the preservation program would not restrict future farm-related expansion plans by the university.

Despite the decision to back off from selling the development rights, the university has "no plans in developing the farm," said Mr. Miller. "We have a sizable investment in the dairy operation there."

The university's farm is located on both sides of Homewood and Folly Quarter roads in the Glenelg area. In addition to being in the heart of the county, it is a key parcel for farm preservation because it is in a "greenbelt" area under the county's new 20-year General Plan for growth.

In addition, farmland preservationists want to avoid the fate that befell the university's horse farm at Route 108 and Old Montgomery Road in the eastern end of the county, which became penned in by development and has been sold off in parcels.

The county's farmland preservation program owns the development rights to 10,170 acres and is negotiating to buy about 2,500 additional acres.

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