County Comment: Priority Preservation Areas Presented

County Comment
Priority Preservation Areas Presented
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

In the regular meeting of the Washington County Board of County Commissioners on February 12th, Senior Planner Jill Baker and Land Preservation Administrator Eric Seifarth presented a proposal to Update the Comprehensive Plan Amendments to include Priority Preservation Areas.
Washington County must amend its Comprehensive Plan to designate Priority Preservation Areas (PPA's) by July 1, 2008 in order to comply with the Agricultural Stewardship Act of 2006 and to retain the additional 42% agricultural transfer tax funding from Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program that the County now receives for having a "certified " preservation program. The intent of PPA's is to further target the spending of preservation funds.
During the 2006 session of the Maryland General Assembly, several new bills were passed regarding land use planning in the state. House Bill 2, the Agricultural Stewardship Act of 2006 required Counties that have certified land preservation programs to evaluate and designate Priority Preservation Areas where preservation funding could be efficiently directed. Washington County currently uses a priority ranking system to evaluate and prioritize lands where those preservation funds should be spent.
Criteria being evaluated by Staff to delineate preliminary PPA boundaries include: soil classifications, proximity to existing easements, parcel size and assessment, and development activity. As a result of the current ranking system, the County has already begun to build large areas of agricultural and forested lands that are permanently protected. Three main areas have arisen from previous preservation efforts including an area to the northeast of Clear Spring, an area north of Smithsburg, and a larger area to the southeast of Hagerstown around Downsville, which expands into the Rural Legacy Area around the Antietam Battlefield. The focus of the Priority Preservation Areas will be to build upon these already existing areas.
Failure to meet the requirements of the Agricultural Stewardship Act of 2006 via amendments to the Comprehensive Plan would result in the disqualification of Washington County to continue competition for certification funds from the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation. (MALPF).
The base level of MALPP funds, Rural Legacy, Project Open Space, and other preservation program funds would continue regardless of establishment of PPA's, but the additional 42% certification funds provided through MALPP would not be available to the County should those priority areas not be established.
In addition, if new sources of revenue are found for MALPF, or if the governor budgets extra money for preservation programs, the funds would only be available to Counties that comply with the Agricultural Stewardship Act. In an average year, the additional 42% certification funds would equal about $400,000 in funding. In an exceptional year such as 2006, the 42% certification funds could total over $1 million funneled through the 60/40 match mechanism with MALPP.
Washington County preserved 1,359 acres on 10 farms last year.