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Billy Harrison, of Woodbine, sat inside his house, which rests on nearly 100 acres on the southern edge of Carroll County, and pondered what could happen to the farmland that's been in his family for 58 years.

"I don't want to sound selfish, but I really don't want my property to be turned into the office park/employment land," he said. "I'd like to leave it the same way ... with the same number of lots."

In one breath, Harrison expressed two issues that face his property:

• The proposed rezoning of his farm to an office park/employment center as proposed in the county's controversial Pathway Plan comprehensive rezoning; and

• Another proposal to change development formulas, which he fears could result in him losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in development rights.

If Pathways is approved as proposed, Harrison's farm, and perhaps others, could see fewer lots eligible for subdividing -- and thus less money down if and when it's ever sold.

Harrison notes that county officials have long said they'd like to protect agricultural land in Carroll, and in fact the county has a goal of preserving 100,000 acres.

But he notes that the Pathways Plan would turn his farm into prime development real estate, and he wonders what the tradeoff is for county residents.

"If people in this area want to keep the county the same way they are, do (county officials) really need to change it?" he said.

Lot rights and wrongs

The Pathways proposal has raised concerns of residents in several areas where new employment centers and being proposed -- many attended a public hearing on the plan on July 14 to express opposition.

But lesser known is another Pathways provision that would change the formula dictating how many residential lots farmers are entitled to.

The change, in Chapter 103 of the plan, indicates some farmers could lose development lots by changing the way lots are calculated.

"Most (farm) properties in most instances will lose one lot yield, at a minimal," said Clay Black, Carroll County bureau chief of development review. "Some may lose more."

Many farm properties have multiple deeds -- even if they are owned by the same family -- and in the past, the county has allowed those parcels to each be counted toward a development plan.

But Pathways is proposing to lump individual lots together when calculating a number of lots that can be built.

Farmers, and planners, say the change will result in fewer lots allowed.

"You're highly likely to get more yield if you have a multi-parcel situation than when you have a single, (combined) description," Black said. "The reason is that for each parcel, we consider a (buildable) lot right now."

"Some people, like Harrison, are saying that the yield will be reduced," Black said.

"That is a fact," he said. "That is true. I'm not going to dispute that."

A buildable lot in the county can range from $125,000 to $225,000, depending on location, said Daniel Hoff, of the Carroll County Association of Realtors. Under that scenario, the loss of even one lot would be costly to owners.

Harrison figures he will lose five to six lots under the proposal, equaling at least a $1.35 million loss.

"This is such a shock," he said.

Ag preservation door closing?

And even if the land is never developed, the recalculation might be costly if farmers enter preservation programs.

Because the farm would have fewer lots, its worth would drop — and so would the money offered through agricultural preservation programs, said Joe Kuhn, vice-president of the Carroll County Farm Bureau.

"It's taking value away from the farmland," he said. "... Any reduction in lot rights would affect overall offers to put in ag preservation."

Ralph Robertson, Carroll County agricultural preservation program manager, said farmers will continue to receive "fair market value" for any land put into preservation.

Yet, fair market value could decrease because of the changes, Hoff said. And he suggested that it's by design -- making ag preservation more possible for the county and state by making land more affordable to purchase.

Because the lost lot rights and the decreased value, the county can buy more land for less money, he said.

The state recently informed the county that it will not fund the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation program for 2010, which started July 1, Robertson said.

"They shut it down for 2010," he said. "We were ready to solicit to sign people."

Still, the county is picking up some of the slack, and so Robertson said officials are moving forward with four ag preservation offers -- out of 33 applicants.

And for those moving ahead now, Robertson said he's operating under the current zoning, not whatever is proposed.

"We're working under what's there right now," he said. "Until I'm told differently in any respect, I'm working on values, lot rights — they're the things appraisers are looking at."

The $17 million that the county funded for ag preservation in the fiscal 2010 budget goes to several preservation programs, so farmers might have to choose a different program. Robertson encourages farmers to go to their financial planners to see what the best program will be for them.

None of this will likely aid Harrison.

Even if he decided to pursue preservation of his land, and even if he did get into a preservation program and even if there were money — Harrison might not be eligible because his property is proposed to be in a designated growth area.

Any farm in a "growth boundary" is not eligible for the ag preservation program, said Brenda Dinne, Carroll County bureau chief of comprehensive planning.

The bottom line, said Harrison, is that he and other Woodbine residents don't want to be forgotten in the mix as other communities — including Mount Airy and Taylorsville — fight the employment park issue.

Harrison's land alone represents about 22 percent of the proposed office park/employment land in Woodbine.

He said he and his wife, Victoria, want to retire on the farm with the money from the ag preservation program paying to protect the farmland. His vision also includes subdividing his property so his daughter will have some land to live on.

He knows he could get more from a developer, but he doesn't want to go that route.

"Realistically, if we were offered money for the land, we'd have a fortune brought to us," Harrison said. "But we're not in it for that."

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