Pennsylvania - BERKS COUNTY
Countywide program - Formed in 1989 - researched by Deborah Bowers

OVERVIEW - Berks County is located in southeast Pennsylvania and is affected by scattered growth patterns expanding out from the Philadelphia suburbs to the south and southeast. With a diverse agricultural sector that includes hogs, dairy, poultry, nursery productions, fruit and mushrooms, it is the third county in the state in value of annual farm production. Berks is one of the top dozen local agricultural easement programs inh the nation in easement acres acquired as of 2003. The county actively works with township governments on planning and zoning matters. In 2002 the county created a pilot program with fiscal incentives to encourage townships to participate in easement acquisitions. About half of all townships have agricultural protection zoning. One township, Washington, has an active TDR program.

EASEMENT ACTIVITY - 28,000 agricultural acres preserved on 230 properties: hogs, poultry, dairy, grains, fruit.
Goals: 200,000 preserved agricultural acres stated in a comprehensive plan update in the early 1990s-no formal annual objectives.
Other Easement Programs: 2,873 agricultural acres preserved by the Berks County Conservancy and 300 acres preserved through the Washington Township TDR program.
Total Agricultural Easements in County: Approximately 31,100 acres.

Acquisition Spending to Date: $57.8 million
Revenues: State funds ($33 million), county bonds ($33 million authorized by the County Commissioners in 2000) and federal funds ($180,000). Smaller amounts of local funds from cash donations and sales of commemorative pottery. In 2002, the Commissioners established the Municipal Land Protection Program with a $500,000 general appropriation to encourage townships to participate in easement acquisitions. With Centre Township participating so far, the program allocates $500 per acre for farmland and $300 per acre for open space, to be matched by township funds. Townships submit Municipal Land Protection Plans to qualify for county funds.

GOVERNANCE - The Berks County Agricultural Land Preservation Board (ALPB) oversees the program. It's nine members are appointed by the County Commissioners to three-year terms. The program staff is housed at the Berks County Agricultural Center and is a separate department within county government, reporting directly to the County Commissioners.

STAFF AND OPERATING BUDGET - Three full-time and two part-time staff. Annual operating budget of about $200,000.

ORIGINS - Farmers became critical of a 1974 comprehensive plan that did not focus on agricultural protection. In the mid-1980s a farmland preservation committee was created to develop a plan. The county's 1991 Comprehensive Plan included an agricultural preservation component to complement the newly developed easement program. The first easements were acquired in 1991.

ACQUISITION PROCESS AND STRATEGY - Two separate quantitative ranking are used by the staff and the ALPB. The first prioritizes applications for appraisal. After appraisals are complete, a second ranking is carried out to determine which easements can be completed with available funds. The top choices are forwarded to the state as recommended easement purchases. County commissioners are notified of the selections. Acquisition decisions are based on
quantitative scores with virtually no discretion applied by county officials.
Rating of Parcels: Quantitative. In the first, pre-appraisal ranking, a Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) formula is used. In Site Assessment, points are allocated to 19 factors related to the development pressures and development capability/suitability of a parcel and its surrounding area. The score determines the order in which properties are appraised. In the post-appraisal ranking, factors weighed include: acreage offered; percent of the total tract; funds per acre; and applicant's willingness to accept less than appraised easement value.
Other Criteria: Minimum state-designated criteria are parcel size or contiguity, location in an Agricultural Security Area, soils and harvested cropland.

CONNECTIONS TO LOCAL PLANNING AND LAND USE POLICIES - Pennsylvania townships and other municipalities are responsible for planning and zoning. Berks County seeks to influence township policies in its comprehensive plan language and in working with the municipalities on zoning and easement arrangements. Since 1997, under the Agricultural Zoning Incentive Program adopted by the county Planning Commission, Berks pays the cost of revising municipal zoning ordinances to be consistent with the county's comprehensive plan.
Zoning: About half of the county's townships have agricultural protection zoning. In agricultural zones sliding scale zoning and low densities requiring 10 to 40 acres per residential unit are prevalent with exceptions for lands not designated as prime or productive.
TDR Arrangement: Washington Township's program is intended to concentrate development in an area where sewer service will be provided. The sending area is the Agricultural Preservation Area and the receiving area is a valley between two villages, where a 400 percent density bonus is possible through transferred rights.

2000 Population: 373,638
1990-2000 Population Change: +37,115 residents; +11 percent

221,511 acres: 84 percent cropland
Conversion to Urban Use: Comparative conversion data not available.

1997 Market Value: $247.7 million Number of Farms: 1,586
Principal Commodities: Livestock including dairy and poultry make up 52 percent of the market value, 35 percent is in nursery and greenhouse products.

Nine townships have significant easement concentrations, while some have no protected farms within their borders. Major concentrations are east-where one township has most of its land under easement-west and northeast of the county seat city of Reading (81,000 population). Few easements are located close to the red-designated urban centers of the county.