Countywide program - Formed in 1989 - researched by Suzanne Heflin

OVERVIEW - Harford County borders the upper Chesapeake Bay and is a short distance northeast of the City of Baltimore. The county participates in both state programs, Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) and Rural Legacy, and also operates its own locally-funded program. A relative latecomer to the agricultural easement arena, forming its program a decade after most other Maryland counties, Harford made up for lost time by adopting in the early 1990s a dedicated revenue source-a local real estate transfer tax-and an Installment Purchase Agreement (IPA) arrangement for the county program. In 2003 Harford ranks among the top 12 local programs nationwide in agricultural easement acres acquired and also leads Maryland in local program acres. Agricultural easement activities are supported by the Master Plan- designated growth area in the south, which reduces development pressure on the agricultural lands in the northern part of the county. Harford also has a limited transfer of development rights (TDR) program that does not record transferred rights, but is considering a more comprehensive arrangement.

EASEMENT ACTIVITY - 29,460 farmland acres in 224 properties, including about 12,900 acres in the county program: 65 percent to 70 percent cropland, 20 percent woodland, and the rest pasture land.
Goals: 50,000 easement acres of prime farmland by 2020.
Other Easement Programs: Maryland Environmental Trust-2,830 acres in 25 transactions; Land trusts-two acres; Green Print Program-202 acres.
Total Agricultural Easements in County: Approximately 33,000 acres.

Acquisition Spending to Date: $47 million
Revenues: County real estate transfer tax, county general fund, state agricultural transfer tax and state funds. Approved by voters in 1993, the .5 percent real estate transfer tax generates about $3.5 million annually for the county PDR program including the 10 to 20 year IPA arrangement.

GOVERNANCE - The Harford Agricultural Land Preservation program is administered by the county's Office of Agricultural and Resource Preservation, a unit of the Department of Planning and Zoning. A five-member citizens' Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Board, appointed by County Commissioners, oversees the local and MALPF programs. Another citizens group, the Lower Deer Creek Rural Legacy Steering Committee, oversees the Rural Legacy program.

STAFF AND OPERATING BUDGET - One staff person (two-thirds time) administers the farmland preservation program and also directs historical and rural planning work. Approximate annual operating budget is $60,000. The county spends approximately $2,500 per easement for title and administrative costs.

ORIGINS - Responding to landowner interest, Harford County began its easement activities in 1989 by joining the state's new MALPF program. The Maryland Environmental Trust began to acquire easements in the county at about the same time. When the state diverted MALPF funds to other purposes in the early 1990s because of budget problems, Harford created its local program and established the dedicated real estate property tax, acquiring the first easements in this program in 1994.

ACQUISITION PROCESS AND STRATEGY - County commissioners make final funding decisions on county-purchased easements and approve applications to the state programs. The Advisory Board ranks applications and advises the commissioners. Although driven by a quantitative scoring system, the review process also relies on subjective factors and officials' discretion. Landowners can appeal initial scores and seek higher rankings.
Rating of Parcels: Quantitative. For the county and Rural Legacy programs, a 300 point ranking system is used. Scoring emphasis is given to agricultural quality, retired development potential, contiguity, farm management and urgency. Some subjectively-calculated points are given for contribution to agricultural viability and young farmers. MALPF applications are ranked on cost.
Other Criteria: COUNTY PROGRAM: Minimum parcel size of 50 acres, unless contiguous with other preserved property, above average production capability or farming activity for at least the previous 15 years, location in a farming area and development potential. MALPF: Enrollment in an Agricultural Preserve District, Class I-III soils. RURAL LEGACY: Location in a designated Rural Legacy Area.

CONNECTIONS TO LOCAL PLANNING AND LAND USE POLICIES - A designated growth area complements the agricultural easement program. The 1996 Master Plan identifies the development envelope as the county's principal growth area, incorporating the county seat of Bel Aire and nine village centers which are intended to absorb 80 percent of residential growth.
Zoning: Agricultural zoning is one unit to 10 acres with clustering on two-acre lots. Rural Growth Areas allow clustering on less than two-acre lots.
TDR Arrangement: Transfers are allowed between two adjacent or nearby lots in the Agricultural District, with an optional density bonus of 900 percent. Transferred rights are not recorded.

2000 Population: 218,590
1990-2000 Population Change: +36,458 residents; +20 percent

90,000 acres
Conversion to Urban Use: Land values for residential use doubled in the last five years to $10,000/acre. Between 1991 and 1999, 7,589 farmland acres were converted and 19,097 farmland acres were preserved. (State conversion data)

1997 Market Value: $38.8 million Number of Farms: 651
Principal Commodities: Cattle and calves, dairy products, corn

Almost all easements are located outside of the Development Envelope, mostly in the northern part of the county. They form a partial horseshoe shape around the designated growth area. Few easements are contiguous to the growth demarcation line. The easement pattern is relatively concentrated. Large blocks are located in Rural Legacy areas in the northeastern and northwestern sectors.