Countywide program - Formed in 1979 - researched by Suzanne Heflin

OVERVIEW - Located on Maryland's eastern shore with the state of Delaware directly to the east, Caroline is one of the state's most rural counties with an economy highly dependent on agriculture. Urban growth pressures are relatively low here, primarily because the county is 50 and more miles distant from Maryland's principal job centers in the Washington and Baltimore areas. However, the east-west state highway through Caroline is a major route to the Atlantic beaches for summer travelers via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Caroline participates in both state funding programs for agricultural easements, Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) and Rural Legacy. It does not have a county purchase of development rights (PDR) program funded exclusively out of local revenues, but has had a small transfer of development rights (TDR) program since 1989. The Rural Legacy project is a joint one with several other eastern shore counties. Despite the absence of a local PDR program, the county's total of agricultural easement acres acquired is one of the highest in the state. Average per acre costs in Caroline are among the lowest in the state.

EASEMENT ACTIVITY - 27,476 agricultural acres in 187 parcels for MALPF and Rural Legacy combined. TDRs account for about 100 acres. Easements are approximately 75 percent cropland, 24 percent woodland and 1 percent pasture.
Goals: 100,000 agricultural acres by 2020.
Other Easement Programs: Maryland Environmental Trust-3,320 acres in 14 transactions; Private land trusts-930 acres.
Total Agricultural Easements in County: About 31,700 acres or 17 percent of the landmass.

Acquisition Spending to Date: Approximately $19.4 million-easement costs per acre are low compared to other Maryland counties, with an average of less than $700 for MALPF acquisitions and about $1,300 for Legacy acquisitions.
Revenues: Direct state funds from MALPF and Rural Legacy account for about 95 percent of expenditures. With the exception of a small amount ($69,000 to date) in county fees on new subdivision lots, local contributions are entirely from the county's share ($344,000 to date) of the agricultural transfer tax. The only other revenue source is $289,000 in federal funds. Rural Legacy funds are shared with several nearby counties.

GOVERNANCE - The program staff is housed in the county Department of Planning and Codes Administration. A five-member citizens' Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Board, appointed by County Commissioners, governs the program.

STAFF AND OPERATING BUDGET - One staff person in the Planning Department is assigned to the program on a 60 percent time. The annual operating budget is estimated at about $54,000.

ORIGINS - Caroline's program dates from the establishment of the state MALPF funding source. Three local leaders, including the county commissioner, promoted the program in its early days, largely to overcome landowner resistance. The first easements were purchased in 1982. Easement sales in Caroline increased greatly in the mid 1980s, when state funds were transferred from other counties where many landowners refused offers because of low prices.

ACQUISITION PROCESS AND STRATEGY - County commissioners give final approval to applications submitted to the state, after review by the Advisory Board. The local review of easement applications rests entirely on quantitative scores, with no discretion applied.
Rating of Parcels: Quantitative. Maximum 50 points emphasizing agricultural quality, contiguity, parcel size and development proximity. Ties in ranking are decided by parcel size.
Other Criteria: Minimum state requirements for MALPF and Rural Legacy. No local criteria.

CONNECTIONS TO LOCAL PLANNING AND LAND USE POLICIES - If located near the boundary of an incorporated town, an easement application is sent to the town government for review-at times applications that conflict with town growth plans have been denied by the county. Caroline's Comprehensive Plan calls for the protection of agricultural areas to retain the rural character of the county. Although not a formal requirement, individual development applications near agricultural parcels under easement are reviewed for their impact on the protected land. County policies include buffer guidelines for major subdivisions. Development is restricted in areas that drain into the Chesapeake Bay under the Critical Areas Planning program.
Zoning: No formal agricultural zoning. Effective density in the rural zone that covers 85 percent to 90 percent of the county is approximately one unit to 12 acres (1:12).
TDR Arrangement: Infrequently used, the Transfer of Subdivision Development Rights program allows transfers within the rural zoning district at a 1:1 ratio, with a density bonus for clustering. The absence of a market for higher density development limits the application of this policy.

2000 Population: 29,772
1990-2000 Population Change: +2737 residents; +10 percent

168,500 acres
Conversion to Urban Use: Conversion pressure is historically low compared to other counties in Maryland. 8,470 farmland acres converted from 1980 to 2001. (State conversion data)

1997 Market Value: $95 million Number of Farms: 525
Principal Commodities: Poultry and poultry products, soybeans, vegetables, sweet corn and melons

Agricultural easements are dispersed throughout the county. Concentrated easement blocks are emerging in the southern part of the county, complemented by the publicly owned Idlywild Wildlife Management Area. Generally, easements are not located near the major areas of residential development, which are in the county's center along the Choptank River and on the southern border.