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Greenbelt Advisory Board, September 4

Providing guidance on “heritage” landscapes
Land that is purchased needs unique qualities
Warwick Jones

There was only one matter of importance before the Greenbelt Advisory Board (GAB) today. It related to guidance for the Greenbelt Bank in deciding on applications for grants relating to “heritage” landscapes. The Bank had requested guidance after hearing the first round of applications for greenbelt funds derived from the half-cent sales tax. Some of the applications related to heritage landscapes, and one in particular, caused some unease on the Board. To ease future decision making, it requested better guidance from the GAB.

The Bank board may not be happy with guidance that the GAB has provided, not because it is restraining but because it is still vague. The discussion at last month’s GAB meeting and the one today underlined the difficulty in determining the merit of any project relating to heritage landscapes. The GAB has defined a formula and scoring system to help in the assessment of all applications, but scoring was subjective.

Committee formed to draft guidance
The GAB attempted to satisfy the Bank board request. A Committee was formed at the last meeting comprising the Chair, the Vice Chair and Cathy Ruff of County Staff. The draft of their proposal was submitted to the Board today and approved with an amendment. The Guidance will now go to the Bank Board for discussion at its meeting this Thursday.

Viewers can see the amended Guidance at the end of this report. The paragraphs at the end of the Guidance specifically spell out the further steps that should be taken in dealing with “heritage” applications. The GAB suggests that applicants provide letters of support and endorsement from agencies that can vouch for the historic and cultural importance and that a clear management plan is provided for the project.

Some disquiet amongst members
The amendment proposed followed on some disquiet expressed by Board members Robertson, Duggan and Green. Referring to the grant that did much to precipitate the request by the Bank - $1.5 million to buy 70 acres of land to cultivate sweet grass for use by basked weavers – Board member Robertson questioned such a high cost for something that may benefit only a few members of the community. He noted the absence of leverage and wondered whether the price was too high. Weren’t there other and cheaper parcels of land available? Who were the principals in the entity applying for funding? Board member Duggan expressed similar views and suggested that if he were a Bank member, he would have had difficulty approving the project. Board member Dwayne Green felt that the guidance should address the land issue – land that is bought should have unique qualities.

Bank Board expressed similar concerns
Ms. Ruff told the GAB that the Greenbelt Bank had expressed the concerns voiced today. It had questioned the availability of land elsewhere and was told that only one other parcel was available in the County and that the purchase of the parcel in the application was the only option. She also noted that the non-profit that made the application had submitted a management plan and had support from a Mount Pleasant Council member. Other Board members pointed out that any land that is purchased with County funds is subject to an evaluation by the County. The purchase can only be approved if the price is at or below the evaluation.

Amendment eases concern of GAB
Board member Leonard Greene came up with the appropriate language to insert in to the Guidance with the addition of “and the significance of the specific parcel to the project goals” to the end of the first line of the bulleted sentence under Clarification /Guidance on Heritage Landscapes. The addition was unanimously approved as was the entire Guidance.

The next GAB meeting will be on October 2 at 3 pm

Warwick Jones is a member of the GAB


Greenbelt Definition:

The following definitions of “heritage landscapes” are contained in the Comprehensive Greenbelt Plan:
• Irreplaceable cultural and historical landscapes unique to the County. (Greenbelt Definition, Page 2-4)
• Areas that have an outstanding assemblage of natural, historic, or cultural resources that together represent distinctive aspects of regional heritage worthy of recognition, conservation, interpretation, and continuing use. The areas reflect traditions, customs, beliefs, and folk life that are a valuable part of the regional story. (Greenbelt Glossary, Appendix A)

To expand and clarify the definition, the GAB offers the following:
• A heritage landscape could be viewed as a continuing landscape, retaining an active role in contemporary society closely associated with the traditional way of life, and in which the evolutionary process is still in progress. (World Heritage website)

Examples of Heritage Landscapes:

The following are examples of “heritage landscape” projects that have been submitted to the Greenbelt Program:
• Sweetgrass Project – to purchase land to grow sweetgrass and for use as an educational area to teach the art of sweetgrass basket making
• Town of Rockville’s Bradham Tract – To preserve the natural and historical setting of this rural village
• The following urban projects were submitted with the purpose of preserving the natural, historical and cultural setting of these communities under pressure from urban sprawl:
o Ten Mile Neighborhood Project
o Snowden Neighborhood Project
o Phillips Community Project

Citizen Input:

The attached graph demonstrates the importance the citizens placed on the protection of heritage landscapes.

Clarification/Guidance on Heritage Landscapes:

The Greenbelt Advisory Board provides the following guidance for the Greenbelt Bank Board’s consideration regarding heritage projects:
• Request applicants provide letters of support and endorsement from agencies that can vouch for the historic or cultural importance of the project and the significance of the specific parcel to the project goals.
• Request the applicants provide a clear management plan that demonstrates their capability of managing and maintaining the land for its conservation purposes.
• Use the Rural Criteria to scrutinize the historical and cultural significance of each project. The Rural Criteria assigns 10 points to the question, “What are the historical and cultural features” and 15 points to the question, “Describe the funding and leveraging for the project.” The project’s historical or cultural significance may balance the applicant’s ability to leverage funds.