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Charles County planning staff briefed the planning commission Monday on proposed legislation that would establish a local purchase of development rights program modeled after those at the state level and in Calvert County.

The bill, which will have a public hearing before going to the planning commission for a vote, would amend the county code to include a new section in the chapter governing agricultural preservation districts.

It would allow the county to purchase transferable development rights from landowners and retire them, preserving the land. In addition to the private TDR market — where developers buy development rights from farmers in exchange for increased density on new projects — the PDR program would give landowners another option for selling their development rights, Charles Rice, the county’s environmental program manager, said.

“Essentially what this is, is the county would be purchasing transferable development rights, so they’re actually purchasing TDRs,” Rice said. “So you have TDRs, and you’re either selling them on the private market, which will increase density somewhere, or sell to the county where they’ll be retired, and there’ll be no density increase.”

A PDR program has been a “recommendation longstanding in the comprehensive plan,” Rice said.

The proposed program was “closely modeled after Calvert County’s program,” he said. “They have had a longstanding purchase of development rights program, and we were able to learn from their years of experience and model that section after their program.”

The program also was “modeled after the state’s ag land preservation program as far as eligibility criteria for size and soils and also for the lot right provisions,” Rice said.

Charles County Planning Director Steve Ball said the “incentive” for landowners to participate in a PDR program when there is an existing TDR market “is because the county commissioners have developed this program and are funding it, so there’s a dedicated funding source that may not be available on the open market.”

“The county will set a price every year and commit a certain amount of resources to buying these development rights, and retiring them so they won’t be developed, as another tool in our toolbox to protect agriculture,” Ball said.

The county will determine what it is willing to pay for development rights based on prices on the private market, similar to what is done in Calvert, Rice said.

The Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Board reviewed the bill, and its recommendations were incorporated, Rice said.

The planning department also will go over the bill with the development community and “give them a chance to look at it, comment on it,” Ball said.

Rice said a section limiting density in agricultural preservation districts to one unit per 20 acres is being replaced to reflect the current state code, which allows up to three lots if the parcel includes at least 120 acres. The county’s provision, however, will not require the lots to be for family members, as the state law does, Rice said.

Planning commission member Joe Tieger asked that a provision be added to the bill requiring at least 10 days notice before a landowner can terminate a preservation district agreement.

“That’s just fair. That’s in any contract,” Tieger said. “If you’re going to terminate a contract, there’s an opportunity for the other party to respond.”

At the end of the meeting, planning commission member Gilbert “Buddy” Bowling Jr., asked to have the economic development department brief the commission on its plans to attract high-tech business to the county.

“St. Charles High School is going to be a high-tech school for students, and you’re going to have students graduating from that school, and they’re going to go on to college, and I’d like to know what kind of high-tech-based industry we’re going to have here in Charles County to keep those possible students and other individuals here in the county,” Bowling said.

Ball said he would pass the request along.

“I’d be glad to ask them to come before you,” Ball said. “They always look forward to getting the word out on economic development issues.”

jnewman@somdnews.com