John C. Bernstein, director of the influential Valleys Planning Council, is leaving the Baltimore County land preservation group to head the Maryland Environmental Trust.

Bernstein, 43, has led the council since Jan. 1, 1995, winning the respect of preservationists, farmers and the developers he often opposed.

"He did an excellent job," said lawyer G. Scott Barhight, who represents a project that is anathema to the Valleys Planning Council -- the development of a country club on the site of the historic Hayfields off Shawan Road. "Even though we disagree on a number of philosophical issues, I admire him, and I'm going to miss him."

Bernstein will begin his new job June 1. His replacement is expected to be named in a few weeks, he said.

A physician turned preservationist, Bernstein said he decided to accept the job at the Maryland Environmental Trust so he could make a statewide contribution to land preservation.

The trust oversees the preservation of 56,000 acres whose owners have donated their development rights to protect the land. The agency's stature is expected to grow as the state develops a rural legacy program to protect additional farmland.

"I think he'll have good ideas how to deal with the new rural legacy program," said Wallace S. Lippincott, director of the Baltimore County agriculture preservation program.

Bernstein leaves the Valleys Planning Council as the group tries to find new ways to preserve the county's rural lands. The council is looking at model programs in Pennsylvania and elsewhere and hopes to create a land bank to buy farmland or development rights.

Bernstein graduated from medical school in 1982 and spent two years as a neurology fellow at the John Hopkins University, studying the effect of chemicals on the brain cells of laboratory rats.

But his heart wasn't in medicine. Turning to his love of woodworking and historic preservation, he started a company and set about restoring old houses.

Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a Republican who represents Owings Mills and the northern part of Baltimore County, says he was impressed with Bernstein's commitment.

"When I learned he was a doctor who had left the medical profession to restore antiques and old houses, I felt immediately attracted to him because that was a man who had the courage to do what he was called to do," McIntire said.

Bernstein said his greatest achievement in the two years he has headed the Valleys Planning Council was to work with McIntire in achieving more restrictive zoning for 9,000 rural acres in the county.

That issue, among others, pitted the council against the local farm bureau. But Lloyd Reynolds, president of the Baltimore County Farm Bureau, praised Bernstein for his work.

"We were on the same agenda, but we just had different ways of getting there," Reynolds said.

They were united in their desire to protect agriculture and ensure that farmers received fair compensation for their land, Reynolds said. "We communicated well. We didn't always agree, but we talked about it," he said.

Pub Date: 4/23/97

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