Accord targets small parcels

The Baltimore Sun

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and Howard County Conservancy President Ann Holmes Jones have signed a memorandum of understanding to work together to promote preservation easements on parcels of less than 50 acres.

The small parcels, which may have significant conservation and ecological value to the county, can be attractive targets for development. They are referred to as "bad infill," causing consternation among neighbors who had not expected development in their neighborhoods.

The project is also designed to protect Howard County property owners who are sometimes forced to sell their undeveloped land because its development potential has increased property taxes beyond their ability to pay. The preservation easements are designed to offer an alternative to owners and their neighbors.

An easement is a written agreement not to develop or sell the land for development; it remains in effect in perpetuity. A land trust such as the Howard County Conservancy holds or monitors easements on properties that have conservation value, such as wetlands, a stream, a forest or scenic vista, said Meg Schumacher, executive director of the conservancy.

The agreement offers economic relief to landowners. Land in a preservation easement is reassessed, and without the potential for development its assessed value and property taxes are reduced, This year, a federal tax credit can also be claimed, said Joshua Feldmark, executive director of the Howard County Commission on the Environment and Sustainability.

"This project is about encouraging folks to enter into the easement and helping them through the process," Feldmark said. The county will reimburse assessor and attorney fees.

The memorandum includes an allocation of $200,000 to the conservancy to cover outreach and easement acquisition, as well as landowner expenses. This fiscal year, about 15 new easements totaling about 120 acres are expected to enter the program, Schumacher said.

The signing of the memorandum between the county and the conservancy was held Monday at historic Lilburn Castle in Ellicott City. The 7-acre property at Lilburn, and an adjoining 2-acre property, will be one of the first parcels to enter the program.

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