Harford County adopts cluster land development and preservation standards


New development standards that will allow farmers and other rural landowners to cluster the development of their land was passed by the Harford County Council last week and signed into law yesterday by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

The goal of the new standards, which are optional, is to prevent suburban sprawl while preserving rural land and open space. Landowners developing a small part of their property must place the remaining, undeveloped portion of their land in a permanent easement, preventing most future development.

The original version of the law barred development on the protected land forever. But some landowners and members of the council believed that forever was too long, so the council amended the bill to allow some nonresidential uses of the property that are "beneficial to the community" and only if "public necessity warrants" and the council and landowner agree.

Those public uses could include schools and firehouses, although the final version of the bill doesn't give examples of uses beneficial to the public.

Whether the law will work is not clear.

"I think farmers are going to take a wait-and-see attitude," said Lee McDaniel, president of the Harford Farm Bureau. "If no one takes the option in a couple of years, then maybe the council and the planners will have to take another look at it."

He said he had not met or spoken to any farmers in Harford who were interested in using the new standards to develop their land because none wanted to put their remaining land in a permanent easement.

Councilman Barry Glassman said: "I'm not really happy that there aren't incentives. It gets clustering on the books, but I don't know if it leads us to our goal. . . . I think it's a step in the right direction, and I'm going to vote 'aye.' "

Mr. McDaniel had called for some sort of incentives at the council's public hearing on the bill last month.

Councilman Robert Wagner, a Bel Air cattle farmer, wanted to pass a resolution asking lawmakers in Annapolis to consider a tax credit for farmers who take the development option. But he could not obtain a second for his resolution Tuesday night, so it didn't come up for a vote.

Mr. Wagner seemed bitter over that, but voted for the new standards. "The keyword in this program is voluntary," he said.

Council President Joanne S. Parrott and County Executive Rehrmann were more upbeat about the new program.

"This is not being forced on any farmer," Ms. Parrott said. "But it may be palatable to some farmers."

"It's an important part of our rural plan to preserve agricultural land," Ms. Rehrmann said.

In other action, the council:

* Confirmed the appointment of Mary Chance director of the county's Community Services Department. The vote was 6-1 in favor, with Councilwoman Susan B. Heselton voting no. Mrs. Chance had been acting director.

* Confirmed the appointment of Harold W. Ertwine to the Harford County Liquor Control Board. Mr. Ertwine replaces Josephine Rush, who died in May.

* Voted to allow the Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company to borrow $268,000 to purchase a new fire truck.

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