The Frederick County Council is considering whether to repeal a program, enacted the previous Board of County Commissioners, that lets farmers sell the development rights of their agricultural land.
Officials in the county’s planning and permitting division say the Transfer of Development Rights Program has kept farmers and property owners from pursuing major subdivisions on their lots.
In November 2014, the then-county commissioners approved the TDR program.
The Maryland Department of Planning had granted an exemption to Frederick County before the commissioners approved the program, allowing major subdivisions — with six or more lots — to move forward in areas zoned for agricultural use.
Without that exemption, those subdivisions can’t be approved.
But after the commissioners approved the TDR program, the Department of Planning suspended that exemption in December 2014.
Steven Horn, director of the division of planning and permitting, said at Tuesday’s County Council meeting that the state Department of Planning will revoke the exemption unless the TDR program is repealed.
In the county, 10 potential subdivisions are under review, made up of 80 residential lots, but those cannot proceed without the exemption.
Farmers and land owners are also negotiating with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for protective easements on their properties in agricultural zones, but the uncertainty about the exemption has delayed this process.
There has been little interest since the TDR program has been in effect, the planning staff said, and only one incomplete application has been received.
Zoning law states that the TDR program was meant to encourage farmland conservation. But a memorandum from the planning department states that because the TDR program allows for the transfer of existing development rights from one agricultural parcel to another, there wouldn’t be a net land preservation.
More common, Horn said after the meeting, is a traditional agriculture-to-urban transfer. Such a traditional program is an option should the county wish to pursue the exemption, the state Department of Planning wrote to the county in February.
The other three options the Department of Planning presented were: repeal the current TDR program, revise it, or prove that the TDR program would not result in a certain ratio of properties per acre in the cumulative agriculturally zoned area.
Horn said during the meeting that the county does not meet this ratio.
But should the county choose not to repeal the TDR program, the state Department of Planning would need to verify that the ratio has been met, the department wrote in its letter to the county.
“Consequently it will take significant time and work together by the county and Planning staff to determine if exemption is still attainable,” the state planning department wrote.