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Farm development rights go before council for vote


The Harford County Council will vote Tuesday night on new development standards that would allow farmers and rural landowners to cluster development rights on one part of their land and keep the remainder of the property for their own use.

By allowing houses to be clustered, county planners hope to avoid suburban sprawl while preserving farmland and open spaces.

But there's a catch: Any landowner who clusters development rights must put the rest of their land in a perpetual easement.

That means the land never can be developed, or rezoned.

At a public hearing last month, some council members and some farmers expressed concern about such tight restrictions.

Councilman Robert Wagner, who raises beef cattle, has introduced an amendment that would allow some uses on land " put in permanent easements.

They would be public uses such as schools, firehouses or police stations.

Under his plan, the council would make a list of such uses to guide future generations on what they could do with the affected land.

Mike Paone, senior agricultural planner for Harford County, said County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann supports Mr. Wagner's idea -- to allow some future public uses of preserved land -- but that she does not want them listed.

An amendment is being drafted for presentation Tuesday to the council, Mr. Paone said.

"I think it's going to pass," he said. "I feel comfortable, but I think it's going to be a lot of discussion."

The new law would be an option for landowners, not a requirement.

They would have to own a parcel of at least 25 acres, and it would have to be zoned agricultural or rural residential.

Under current rules, for example, a farmer with 100 acres may break his land into 10 housing lots of 10 acres each, said Mr. Paone. The minimum lot size is 10 acres.

If the new rules were adopted, the landowner could cluster the 10 lots on a 20-acre portion of the 100 acres, while keeping the remaining land open.

The council will meet at 8 p.m. on Level A of the county courthouse in Bel Air.

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