Land Preservation

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Land Preservation 2016-12-10T14:15:13+00:00

What is Preservation?

As part of the VPC’s efforts and interest in land use and growth management, it is concerned with land conservation as well as preservation of historic resources and rural character. These concerns generally fall under the preservation umbrella.

Land conservation/preservation is generally accomplished by good planning that results in effective zoning and easements. Baltimore County is fortunate to be a national leader on both fronts. Two-thirds of the county has Resource Conservation Zoning that limits residential, industrial and commercial development, and the county has over 55,000 acres of land under permanent conservation easement.

To find out more about zoning, click on the following links:

What are the benefits of Planning & Preservation?

Planning and preservation are tools and actions that allow the residents of a community to guide its future.  If you do not plan or fail to act on plans, the future will unfold based on someone else’s ideas and actions or happenstance. Plans are challenging and sometimes tedious to produce. People have conflicting ideas and expectations. The planning process helps to inform and stimulate thinking. Common ground is eventually found. When people have helped develop a plan, they are more engaged in its implementation and defense.

Preservation is a result of planning. Take the Rural Legacy areas for example. Analysis showed where large blocks of land with good soils existed. Those areas were designated for preservation by conservation easement and a dedicated source of funds to purchase development rights was established. The desired result is occurring, and large chunks of fertile farmland are now permanently preserved, and more land in these areas is being protected every year. Without this forward thinking (i.e., planning), and subsequent action, farming would become unviable in many areas due to fragmentation of the rural area and incompatible land uses.

Preservation also incorporates a personal kind of planning, that is, family and estate planning. Farmers typically have to decide how to hand the farm down to the next generation. Should they split up the farm, sell it off in entirety, develop a portion, or put the farm into preservation? There is a lot to consider. Baltimore County is fortunate to have a number of good local land trusts who can help a farmer evaluate these critical options and develop a plan that is good for the family, the farm, and the community.

What Preservation programs does the VPC promote?

The VPC is supportive of many preservation programs. We are fortunate to live in an area where both the state and the local government have an array of excellent programs for preservation. In land preservation, the premier program in Maryland has been Program Open Space (POS). Few states have the resources that this program provides. Initially, it was the main open space and preservation program. It is funded through a 0.005% (one half of one percent) real estate transfer tax. Any time a property is sold in Maryland, this tax is applied and the funds go into a special account used to fund land conservation and outdoor recreation. The idea behind the program was to set the pace of land conservation on an equal footing with the pace of development. In active real estate years, the program can bring in large sums, $70 million or more. The funds are administered by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). For a long while, DNR basically split the fund for two uses: funding local recreation projects and state purchases of public lands for parks and natural resource protection.

As Smart Growth came into the picture and soils and green infrastructure analysis was conducted, it was determined that more funds were needed as incentive to get private landowners to preserve their land. It became obvious that the state could not afford to buy and manage all the land that needed to be conserved. The Rural Legacy Program was started in the mid-’90s, and it began to receive a portion of the POS funding. Since then, the pie has been divvied up in various ways to meet land preservation and Bay restoration goals, including funding in varying amounts for the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF), critical maintenance at state parks, and a $3 million slice that funds the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (aimed at improving local cultural and historical assets and tourism).

In addition to state programs, counties have an agricultural piggy-back tax that provides funding for smaller pots of local funds, often used to provide the funding match needed for state programs. Baltimore County also typically issues a bond that generates several million dollars over a two-year period for local land preservation funds.

There are a number of programs and organizations dedicated to cultural and historic preservation. The VPC has actively participated in the establishment of several historic districts. There are both nationally designated districts (National Register Historic Districts) and local (Baltimore County) historic districts. A map showing the location of these districts can be found on page 128 of the Baltimore County Master Plan. Locally-designated districts can be more difficult to establish and offer more protection than national districts, but both national and local designations are helpful in protecting the character of an area as well as individual structures.

Baltimore County’s Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) is a good tool for protecting individual historic structures as well as their setting. Structures on the LPC list or within county historic districts are protected from demolition and all exterior alterations are subject to LPC approval.

Another very useful program and tool for historic preservation is the state’s historic tax credit program for rehabilitation projects. The Sustainable Communities Tax Credit program for homeowners is available for single-family, owner-occupied residential properties and is equal to 20% of the qualified rehabilitation expenditures for the project. This income tax credit, which can be significant, can be coupled with the county’s rehabilitation property tax credit for a substantial savings and incentive for homeowners. These programs are detailed and can be explored in more depth at the links below.