Preserving a critical mass; Baltimore County: Today's purchases of farmland and woods will limit future development.


BALTIMORE County's aggressive land preservation program is accomplishing its objective -- keeping sprawl from overwhelming strategic rural areas -- and setting an example for the rest of Maryland.

The county's purchase of 554 acres of forest land on the Back River Neck Peninsula takes one of the largest undeveloped waterfront parcels in the eastern section from the county's inventory of buildable property.

The same phenomenon is taking place in Piney Run, Long Green Valley and along the Gunpowder River -- where the county has been spending large sums of money to place agricultural and environmental easements on farms and forests. The county has also been buying land outright, as it did on the Back River Neck Peninsula.

To date, the county has preserved approximately 26,000 acres of rural land, a remarkable record considering that the county is highly urbanized and the value of its raw land is the highest in the area. Only two predominantly rural counties -- Carroll, with 31,000 acres, and Harford, with 29,000 -- have preserved more agricultural acreage than Baltimore County.

The county has wisely taken advantage of the state's 1998 Rural Legacy Program, which assists counties in buying development rights on scenic and strategic rural properties. At the same time, the county has added large sums of its own. County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and the County Council plan to contribute about $5.2 million of the $8 million to be spent on agricultural preservation this fiscal year.

The county is also looking to preserve properties inside the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line, which separates the county's urban and rural areas. For the first time, the county has budgeted money for farmland purchases inside the URDL.

More counties should follow Baltimore County's example and use this opportunity to make strategic land purchases and protect their rural areas from future development.

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