Best Practices in Land Preservation

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Salisbury University

Smart Growth Day

April 28, 2010

Session summary: “Best Practices in Land Preservation”

Panelists: Ann G. Carlson, Eastern Region Planner, Maryland Environmental Trust

Katherine Munson, Planner, Worcester County Department of Development Review & Permitting

Carla Gerber, Community Planner, Kent County Department of Planning, Housing, and Zoning

Martin Sokolich, Long Range Planner, Talbot County Planning Office
Moderator: Sandra Edwards, Land Protection Specialist, Eastern Shore Land Conservancy
Ms. Carlson’s presentation entitled Successful Land Conservation: Donated Conservation Easements and the Maryland Environmental Trust provided background on the only statewide land trust in Maryland, and focused primarily on donated conservation easements. A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust and/or government entity that limits the amount and type of development and uses that can occur on a property. Conservation easements are one of several tools used to permanently protect land. Landowners may be eligible for certain tax benefits (i.e. federal income tax deduction, MD income tax credit, property tax credit, etc.) for a conservation easement donation. For more information on MET and donated conservation easements please visit
Ms. Munson’s presentation entitled Land Protection Strategies in Worcester County, MD provided an overview of Worcester County’s land protection program. 159,400+/- acres, which is 17% of the County, is protected to date through purchased and donated conservation easements, government lands and Nature Conservancy holdings. In January 2010, Worcester County adopted a Priority Preservation Area (PPA), which consists of 195,000 acres (64% of the County’s total area). The long-term goal is to protect 100,000 acres of the PPA through zoning and conservation easements. Build-out density in the agricultural zone is estimated at 1:20. The County uses several programs to preserve land, including Maryland’s Rural Legacy Program (RLP), the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF), the Federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP), the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), the Coastal Estuarine Land Conservation Program, and USFWS Coastal Wetlands Grant Program. In addition, MET and the Lower Shore Land Trust work in partnership to preserve land with donated conservation easements.
Ms. Gerber’s presentation Planning for Results, Kent County, Maryland’s Approach to Preserving Working Landscapes focused on agriculture in Maryland’s 4th smallest county in terms of land area and the smallest in terms of population. 57% of Kent County is considered prime farmland and per the most recent agricultural census (2007), Kent Co. ranked in the top 5 counties in MD for production of the four primary traditional Eastern Shore crops, those being corn, barley, soybeans, and wheat. Kent County long ago recognized the importance of agriculture to the economy and the quality of life. In 1989, the density for agricultural land was set at 1:30 and in 2002 other restrictions were adopted to further limit the amount of farmland that could be developed for residential purposes. Agriculture is also supported through the allowance of agricultural support services, farm-based businesses, cottage industries, etc. on agricultural zoned land. Kent County has one of the lowest rates of agricultural conversion (to development) in the state. The vast majority of new development is happening within designated growth areas. Similar to Worcester County, several programs are used in Kent County to preserve land, including Maryland’s Rural Legacy Program (RLP), the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF), the Federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP), the Transportation Enhancement Program and the donated easement programs administered by MET and the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC).
Mr. Sokolich’s presentation entitled Matching Preservation Tools to Smart Growth Objectives provided an overview of Talbot County’s land preservation efforts to date and included some discussion relative to the ongoing challenges as well as ideas for the future. Landowner participation in land preservation programs in Talbot County is lower than surrounding counties, which is likely directly related to the fact that land values in the County have historically been considerably higher than surrounding counties. Purchased easement programs have been more successful east of Route 50, while donated easement programs have been more successful in the neck district west of Route 50. Over 80% of the County has an agricultural designation and agricultural zoning in the County is set at a density of 1:20. Two goals in the County’s Comprehensive Plan are to concentrate development in Priority Funding Areas (the 4 towns served with water & sewer) and to conserve rural resource lands. Typical strategies to achieve Smart Growth goals through land preservation usually include down-zoning, Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs, and increased participation in current easement programs.  Talbot County has worked with all of these tools over the past 30 years.  Looking ahead the County is considering other strategies such as new partnerships, outreach, incentives, and innovation such as “Agriburbia” or mixed-use/adaptive re-use on agricultural lands. 
Conclusion: Agricultural/rural land preservation easement programs are an important tool used to support smart growth, but many other tools are needed to preserve our natural resources and to truly achieve smart growth on the Eastern Shore for the long-term. Key elements of a successful land preservation program include appropriate agricultural zoning (preferably 1:25 or more restrictive), funding through a dedicated fund not budget allocations (at state and local levels), inter-jurisdictional cooperation (particularly for things like TDRs), private-public partnerships, having multiple voluntary preservation options for landowners to chose from (i.e. donated and purchased easement programs), strong community support (public awareness of the benefits of local foods and importance of agriculture to the local, regional, and state economies), political support (at all levels), zoning provisions allowing farmers to diversify (value-added ventures, agri-business, etc.), and last but not least, innovation. We are in a unique time and we need to think creatively in order to maintain our natural resources-based economies that are so important to maintaining the quality of life on the Eastern Shore. Counties must work together and so must counties and the towns within them - cooperation, not competition, is needed.

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