Prince George’s County approves rural growth restrictions -- Gazette.Net


Residents and farmers in rural Prince George’s County could see their property values drop after a move by the County Council to restrict development in compliance with a new state law seeking to preserve farm land.

The County Council unanimously passed its implementation plan Nov. 20 for the state Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act. Land use attorneys and farming advocates said the law could hurt land values, as well as residents’ ability to borrow money to upgrade their farms.

Although the county already has rules for growth and development in the rural tier, the new state law — passed earlier this year — is much more stringent and requires all counties to divide their land into four different growth tiers by the end of the year.

Tier 4, intended for land planned for agriculture, prohibits all but “minor subdivisions,” which sets a cap of four to seven lots in a residential area depending on a county’s preference.

Under the plan, more than 90 percent of the county’s rural tier, which encompasses much of southern Prince George’s from Accokeek to southern Clinton and Brandywine, is placed in Tier 4. In response to opposition from landowners and farm groups, the council increased the number of lots allowed from four to seven.

Yates Clagett, president of the Prince George’s County Farm Bureau and owner of a beef-cattle farm in Baden, said he thought the council did its best to try to preserve landowners’ property values, but the plan will likely still hurt residents who often borrow money using land equity to make capital improvements for their farm.

“The [increase to] seven lots per property is definitely helpful and will hopefully help some landowners to keep their equity as much as possible,” Clagett said. “But larger landowners absolutely lost a lot of value in their land.”

Tom Haller, a Largo-based land-use attorney, said the council made a strong effort to preserve residents’ equity and noted that a decrease in property values hurts the county’s coffers as well.

Haller said the new rules more significantly affect owners of larger pieces of property who are able to fit more on their land.

“That negatively affects the value of what it could be sold for or mortgaged against,” Haller said. “But by devaluing the property, it devalues it from a tax revenue perspective as well.”

County Councilman Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro, whose district includes the majority of the rural tier, said the council will be looking at further measures in 2013 to protect residents affected by the new development regulations.

Franklin said he wants to set up a Transfer of Development Rights program, where a property owner looking to build a development larger than seven lots could buy development rights from neighbors.

“We want to give some of the landowners some additional equity in their land in light of the fact that we’re essentially restricting development for the long term,” Franklin said. “...But because the TDR program is fairly complicated, we didn’t want to try to rush something together before the end of this year’s session.”

Clagett praised the prospect of putting a TDR program in place, and said he hopes the agricultural community will have a seat at the table when new legislation is drafted.

“I’ll hopefully be working with Franklin and staff to get that going as soon as possible,” he said. “In the program, those who don’t want to take advantage of building seven lots [on their property] have another way to preserve their farm while retaining equity.”