Preserving Farmland and Adam's County's Rural Character
Posted: June 7, 2012
Land development in the county has always been a careful balance between needed housing developments, increased businesses and the upkeep of the quaint serenity of a small town life. Since the decline in the economy Adams County has experienced a sharp drop in proposed developments. The Office of Planning & Development offers a yearly Subdivision/Land Development & Building Permit Activity Report which tracks proposals for the county.
On average the county has approx. 213 submissions of new plans per year, yet in 2011 there were only 91 plans submitted which would occupy 8,318 acres of which 32% would be to active agriculture. In such a downtime in development it is good to reflect upon and plan for proper land use in Adams County as expansion of residents, industry and agriculture is bound to return.
Programs such as the Land Conservancy of Adams County and the Agricultural Land Preservation Board are fighting to preserve viable agricultural lands to sustain a farming future for Adams County. In their efforts they are creating cluster areas of agriculture to limit residential and agricultural conflicts while ensuring that farmers will always have land for the production of food.
Agriculture, as the second top industry after tourism, provides employment (over 3,700 jobs last year), food production and introduces a variety of secondary industries. The preservation of agricultural lands, as well as supporting this vital industry, also protects watersheds, wildlife habitats, woodlots, recharges groundwater, keeps soils workable and retains the natural beauty of Adams County.
Through the creation of easements The Land Conservancy has preserved 7,500 acres for solely agricultural use, with the Agricultural Land Preservation Board preserving over 19,500 acres. The two work in unison, with the Land Conservancy mainly handling donations of land while the Preservation Board works to purchase larger tracts of farm land.
The process of preservation is a carefully thought out and planned agreement with the landowner to create an easement which is recorded and attached to a property deed limiting the use of property to agricultural purposes. The land is then forever limited from subdivision, residential or commercial development. At least 50% of the land must be kept in agricultural production or available for production and can operate a rural business or have an additional residence built upon it.
Easements are created for the preservation and sustainability of the land according to a landowner’s wants and needs. An initial Title Search of the property looks at the history of a property over 60 years to ensure there is clear title and there aren’t any encroachments or right of ways, as when an easement is in place no non-agriculturally related changes can be made to the property.
The preservation process also requires the landowner to follow a conservation plan which is drafted and updated as operations change such as substantially changing the number of livestock. The Ag Land Preservation Board assesses preserved farms every year to monitor conservation plans and land usage. As an easement becomes part of a property, not just the landowner, the Preservation Board ensures new property owners understand the restrictions which come with their deed.
Conservation plans enact various environmental policies such as the Clean Stream law which prohibits cattle in streams. Conservationists work closely with landowners to protect streams, groundwater, woodlands, wetlands and soils. The preservation of agricultural land can be a moving force in the protection of our resources such as the Chesapeake Bay.
When preserving agricultural land; location and soil quality is a significant component, for example the southeast corner of Adams County has particularly good soil and is a target cluster area for preservation.
Property can also be preserved for agricultural use through the Clean and Green Program which offers tax incentives for temporary inclusion. If a property is considered in agricultural use, a forest reserve or an agricultural reserve the property can be taxed based on ‘use value’ rather than market value. This program aims to reduce the tax burden on property owners and can be applied for through the county Assessment Office.
Ellen Dayhoff of the Ag Land Preservation Board is raising awareness of the current possibility of the State Budget switching farmland preservation monies from the Environmental Stewardship Fund (commonly known as the cigarette tax) to bonds from Growing Greener II. This switch may disrupt the available funding the county has for preservation, as all county funds are matched by the state.
While farmland is often converted for development, Ms. Dayhoff emphasizes that the highest and best use of agricultural land is for agriculture and that “preserving farmland is economic development.” Ag Land Preservation GIS Analyst & Ag Specialist Mark Clowney reiterates her point as he explains that “by having farms in Adams County there’s secondary and tertiary economic impact. As farms would disappear you’d see these (businesses) move further away.”
In 2005 a record of 3,671 acres of agricultural land was proposed for conversion to public, residential, retail, industrial or business lands. While this may bring necessary development into Adams County it comes at the cost of food production, employment, water supply and our scenic heritage.