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Farmland preservation plan well received


Harford farmers like the county's plan to preserve agricultural and rural areas as long as it offers choices about how to save the land.

By providing a proposal with several options for protecting valuable farms, the county will win more farmers' support, said Donald Hoopes, president of the 900-member Harford Farm Bureau.

Mr. Hoopes outlined his concerns before the County Council during a work session Monday to review the proposed Rural Plan, a Department of Planning and Zoning report designed to steer growth away from farms and pristine rural areas.

"What we don't want to see is any one option becoming the standard," Mr. Hoopes said. "Not every landowner is going to be satisfied with the same option. The same shoe is not going to fit every foot."

County officials say the plan is needed to prevent the steady stream of development that has replaced barns with houses and pastures with back-yard pools.

Harford now has about 96,000 acres in rural or agricultural areas, down from 149,000 acres in 1965, county statistics show.

Meanwhile, the market value of agricultural products from county farms has dipped to $24.5 million in 1990, from $25.3 million in 1978, statistics show.

Legislation to put the Rural Plan into action is expected to be introduced before the council Aug. 4. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for Sept. 8.

The 40-page plan contains several proposals:

* Transfer of development rights would allow property owners to sell their development rights to developers, who could build in other areas of the county at greater densities than zoning laws permit. Those who sold their development rights could no longer develop their properties.

The county has yet to select "sending areas," land for which property owners could sell development rights, and "receiving areas," where developers could use the rights.

* Purchase of development rights would permit property owners to sell their development rights for the land to the county, while agreeing to maintain the land for agricultural uses.

* Village centers would be existing communities, such as Jarrettsville and Fallston, where the county would direct low-density development to prevent sprawling development throughout rural areas.

* Residential conservation development standards would enable developers to "cluster" houses on smaller lots to allow more land to be left as open space.

J. Robert Hooper, a former councilman from Street, advised the council to include a section in the plan that provides farmers with protection from complaints by people moving to rural areas.

"We're moving people to closer to the farms," Mr. Hooper said.

Michael Paone, Harford's agricultural planner, said the county will consider requiring builders in rural areas to include buffers, such as trees and open space, between farms and their subdivisions.

Council President Jeffrey Wilson said the plan is not designed to promote development in rural areas, but to channel growth into certain areas suitable for low-density housing.

"We're not talking about an increase in the number of development rights," Mr. Wilson said. "It's a reconfiguration."

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