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Greenbelt Advisory Board, February 23

Defining the issues for future consideration
A presentation on the Purchase of Development rights for Agricultural land
Warwick Jones

The Greenbelt Advisory Board (GAB) has some busy months in front of it. Late last year, Council asked that the GAB to take a look at the Greenbelt Plan and to address some issues that Council members had. The Board met and affirmed unanimously the original fundamentals of the Plan. But it decided that before addressing the specific issues, a reaffirmation of the fundamentals of the Plan should be made by Council. Implied was that without this reaffirmation, it may have been pointless to address the specific issues.

At the last meeting of the Finance Committee, the consultant, Chuck Flink of Greenways Inc, retained by the Country to help define the Greenbelt Plan, made a presentation reiterating the principles of the Plan. On the completion of the presentation, Council reaffirmed the original fundamentals and requested the GAB to proceed with its consideration. The issues will be considered at four meetings of the GAB in March and April. A public hearing on the GABís proposals will be scheduled for May 4 and the proposals submitted to the Finance Committee at its meeting scheduled for May 13.

The issues to be considered, some at the request of Council, others by members of the GAB and the consultant are as follows. It may well be that others will be added in the light of GAB meetings:

  1. Definition of Eligible Greenbelt Fund recipient
  2. Outreach to small landowners
  3. Urban allocation to Beach Islands]
  4. Funding for Urban unincorporated areas
  5. Possible amendment to scoring system for rural projects to give emphasis to; Provision of buffers to local and state roads so they are viewable by the public; Allow for public access whether full or limited: Include uses such as farming when the protection of the property will allow the landowner to continue to farm.
  6. Lots are contiguous to other protected lands
  7. Use of additional tools in Conservation Toolbox
  8. Greenway Corridor goal
  9. Marketing campaign
  10. Updated greenspace inventory

Mr. Flink, when he addressed the GAB last month, suggested that it look at the Purchase of Development Rights for Agricultural lands (PACE) to help create greenbelts. PACE was a tool in the Conservation Tool box but was not used by the County. He thought it could be very useful. The Director of Planning, Mr. Dan Pennick gave a presentation to the GAB to help members understand it.

PACE is very similar to Conservation easements. The owner gives up some of the development rights Ė be it water, air, land, access in return for cash or like kind. As with the creation of easements, a valuation has to be made as to what is being given up. The value of this potential and forsaken income stream is the basis of deduction against income for tax purposes.

Some of us could not discern much difference between a PACE and a conservation easement. One of the not so subtle differences is that there is no need for a non profit such as the Nature Conservancy to hold the development rights. Most likely the Development Rights agreement would be held by the County but as Mr. Pennick noted, ensuring compliance with the agreement would be the County and the IRS which has the yearly income filings of the land owner. He also said that ensuring compliance would not be that difficult considering the ease of obtaining aerial photos. PACE also lent itself to small parcels of land which tend to be ignored by the conservation bodies.

Funding for PACE if adopted by the County could be from Greenbelt funds. But Mr. Pennick said that funds from other sources including the State and Federal were possible. And a question that the GAB would need to address was who decides the allocation of PACE funds - the Greenbelt Bank or another entity?

A member of the Nature Conservancy (NC) who was attending the GAB meeting warned that non compliance with its easements was on the rise and it occurred particularly with small land holders. He also noted that the NC tended to confine itself to obtaining easement on large land holdings, mainly for efficiency reasons. A member of the Coastal Conservation League also requested the GAB not lose sight of its original purpose. Implied was that the County should not get too involved in placing easements or the acquisition of development right over small land parcels when large parcels were to be had for conservation.

The author is a member of the GAB