[HISTORY: Adopted by the County Council of Wicomico County 9-7-1999 by Bill No. 1999-10. Amendments noted where applicable.]
Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation — See Agriculture Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, § 2-501 et seq.
Editor's Note: This bill also repealed former Ch. 104, Agricultural Land Preservation, adopted 2-13-1986 by Bill No. 1986-2.
This chapter may be known as the "Wicomico County Agricultural Land Preservation Act."
As the conservation of agricultural land and the natural environment becomes an increasing concern, the County Council has determined that it is in the public interest to preserve agricultural acres to: conserve farmland for future food and fiber production; ensure continued high-quality food supply for our citizens; and, preserve the agricultural industry and rural communities.
It is the purpose of this chapter to protect the health, safety and well-being of present and future residents of Wicomico County by increasing the amount of productive agricultural land and woodland to be preserved which provides for the continued production of food and fiber for the citizens of the county. These regulations encourage the preservation of agricultural land and woodlands by discouraging their development into more intensive urban uses.
This chapter shall apply to all existing agricultural land preservation districts and any future districts created under this chapter. All such districts shall provide for the protection of normal agricultural activities within the districts in accordance with this chapter.
The following terms have the meanings indicated:
- AGRICULTURAL DESIGNATION
- Land identified as agricultural resource areas in the General Land Use Map and located in the county's Agriculture/Rural Zoning District.
- AGRICULTURAL LAND PRESERVATION ADVISORY BOARD (ADVISORY BOARD)
- A board established in accordance with § 2-504.1 of the Agriculture Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland.
- AGRICULTURAL PRESERVATION PROGRAM ADMINISTRATOR (PROGRAM ADMINISTRATOR)
- An individual appointed by the Director of the Department of Planning, Zoning and Community Development (herein referred to as the "Director") to assist landowners in the establishment of state and county agricultural districts or the sale of an easement and to administer the provisions of this chapter.
- The bona fide use of a parcel of land for cultivation, raising of poultry and livestock and similar agrarian activity, including the producing of crops; breeding, boarding or training of animals; horticulture; apiaries; hydroponics; viniculture; forestry; and the related buildings, structures and appurtenances necessary to carry out the aforementioned activities as approved by the Advisory Board.
- The Wicomico County Council.[Amended 10-17-2006 by Bill No. 2006-11]
- Wicomico County, Maryland.
- COUNTY AGRICULTURAL DISTRICT
- A district that contains agricultural land or woodlands and established in accordance with § 104-4 of Chapter 104 of the County Code.
- A restrictive covenant or encumbrance running with the land that restricts the landowner's rights to develop or otherwise limits the uses permitted on a property to agricultural and other uses as specified in this chapter.
- The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation.
- County funds allocated for the Agricultural Land Preservation Program.[Amended 10-17-2006 by Bill No. 2006-11]
- A person or corporation with legal title to a parcel of land within Wicomico County. Landowner includes a successor in interest.
- OPEN SPACE DESIGNATION
- A denotation of woodlands and other natural areas identified as natural features in the General Land Use Map and which are not already protected from development by law.
- OWNER'S LOT
- A building lot not exceeding 40,000 square feet, unless required by the Health Department, for the construction of a dwelling for the original district landowner.
- PRODUCTIVE AGRICULTURAL LAND
- Land eligible to be included in a state agricultural district in accordance with the criteria of the state program.
- PROPERTY TAX CREDITS
- Credit received for county property taxes on agricultural land, woodland and farm structures enrolled in a ten-year county agricultural district.
- SEVERE ECONOMIC HARDSHIP
- A hardship determined by the County Council based upon evidence of:
- SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION PLAN
- A plan approved by the Wicomico County Soil Conservation District outlining agricultural land use activities and associated conservation practices.
- Land area in a state or county forest management program dominated by trees and other woody plants, including trees and woody plants that have been cut but not cleared.
A landowner in Wicomico County who is interested in protecting his/her land from development by preserving it for agricultural purposes and/or is interested in preserving the woodlands on his/her property in this program, may submit an application for the establishment of an agricultural land preservation district in accordance with the provisions of this chapter, the Agriculture Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, sections 2-501 through 2-515, and regulations adopted pursuant thereto by the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation.
Any landowner interested in establishing a county agricultural district which meets the criteria set forth in this chapter shall submit a completed county agricultural district application to the Program Administrator.
The Program Administrator will review the application to determine if the land meets the criteria for inclusion in a county district.
After determining that the application is complete and the proposed district meets the established criteria, the application shall be forwarded to the Wicomico County Planning Commission and Advisory Board for review and recommendation.
The Planning Commission and Advisory Board shall advise the County Council as to whether or not establishment of the district is compatible with existing and approved county plans and overall county policy, and whether or not the establishment of the district is recommended.
If either the Advisory Board or the Planning Commission recommends approval, the County Council shall hold a public hearing on the application. Adequate notice of the hearing shall be given to all landowners in the proposed district and to the Foundation. If a county agricultural district is approved by resolution of the County Council, a county agricultural district agreement shall be recorded in the land records of Wicomico County and the district shall then be subject to the terms and conditions of the agreement.
Agricultural preservation districts shall consist of land which is either used primarily for the production of food or fiber or is of such open space character and productive capability that continued agricultural production is feasible.
At least 50% of the agricultural land must be in USDA Soil Capability Classes I, II and III or Woodlands Groups I and II. In addition, all eligible land must have an approved soil and water conservation plan. Districts which are 50% or more in woodlands shall have an approved forest management plan prepared by a registered forester.
The area to be included must contain at least 50 contiguous acres of agricultural or woodland. Contiguous parcels which aggregate at least 50 acres may be combined to create a district, provided that each individual parcel has no less than 10 acres.
Only agricultural land in the Agriculture/Rural Zoning District is eligible for inclusion in a district.
All land must be located outside of the ten-year water and sewer district of the nearest municipality.
Agricultural land which is otherwise qualified for district establishment and is comprised predominantly of land of lower general capability may be eligible for inclusion into a district upon recommendation of the Planning Director.
The landowner, as a condition of acceptance into the county district, must implement an approved soil and water conservation plan.
Any recommendation by the Board shall be based upon information obtained from the University of Maryland Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service, Wicomico County Soil Conservation District and any other relevant source and shall contain information that addresses the long-term productivity of the land and farm management practices.
The districts shall be comprised solely of legal lots of record.
Except as prohibited by the Zoning Chapter, these activities are permitted in a county district:
Any agricultural use of land;
Operation of any machinery used in farm production or the primary processing of agricultural products;
Agricultural activities and operations in accordance with good husbandry practices; and
The sale of farm products, produced on the farm where the sales are made.
Subdivision of land in districts. A person who owns land included in a county district shall not use or subdivide the land for commercial, industrial or residential uses, except as provided in this subsection and with the approval of the Director. A landowner may request:
The removal from the county agricultural district of a lot that is 40,000 square feet, or larger if required by the Health Department, for the construction of a dwelling for the original landowner; or,
The removal from the county agricultural district of lots as permitted by Chapter 200, titled "Subdivision of Land," § 200-3A, Minor subdivisions of two lots or fewer, provided that said lots are conveyed to family members and the maximum density shall not exceed one dwelling unit per 20 acres, excluding lots for the original landowner's dwelling and tenant dwellings.
A landowner's request for exclusion of an owner's lot (Subsection B(1) above) shall be evaluated based on the location of the lot and its potential impact on the agricultural or woodland use of the remaining property in the district.
Land on which tenant dwellings are constructed may not be subdivided or conveyed or maintained separately from the original parcel.
The provisions of this section shall not prohibit the conveyance of an interest to a third party as security for a mortgage or deed of trust in a lot or parcel of land created through the procedures outlined in this section.
The landowner of agricultural land, including farm improvements, which is located in an agricultural preservation district established pursuant to this chapter shall be entitled to a fifty-percent property tax credit for a maximum of 10 years against the county tax for the agricultural land, including farm improvements.
The property tax credit shall not be applicable to any residential structures located within an agricultural preservation district.
The agricultural preservation district must be approved by the County Council on or before April 1 in order to be eligible for the property tax credit for the ensuing fiscal year.
The property tax credit shall be applicable for each subsequent year during which the agricultural land is located in an agricultural preservation district, but not to exceed the ten-year period specified in Subsection A above.
The property tax credit granted pursuant to this section shall terminate upon the sale of an easement or development rights to the state or county or at such time as the agricultural preservation district is terminated or ceases to be in effect.
On or after five years from the establishment of the district, and provided that the county has not purchased an easement on the land, the county, at the written request of the landowner, may terminate the district. However, if the landowner is receiving a tax credit, the district may not be terminated until 10 years have elapsed, unless the landowner is able to demonstrate to the county that continuation of the district will cause him severe economic hardship.
A landowner's participation in a district which contains 50% or more acreage in woodland may be terminated at the discretion of the Director if the office determines that the property is not in compliance with a state or county forest management program.
In a county agricultural district that contains land from more than one landowner, if a landowner's withdrawal from the county agricultural district causes the district to no longer meet the requirements for a county agricultural district, the Director may adjust the district to the remaining acreage.
If a landowner has received a tax credit because of participation in a state or county agricultural district and that landowner withdraws from the agricultural district, or the district terminates or ceases to be in effect, the landowner of the agricultural land shall pay to Wicomico County an amount of money equal to the total of the property tax credits granted in the preceding four years. The county shall have a lien on the agricultural land to the extent of the amount of the property tax credits granted in the preceding four years. The owner of the agricultural land shall pay the amount of money as above determined within 30 days of receiving a demand therefor. Thereafter, the amount of money shall bear interest at the rate of 10% per annum. The agricultural land shall not be transferred on the assessment records of Wicomico County until such time as the amount of money as above determined is paid to Wicomico County.
Easement eligibility requirements.
Unless further development is already precluded by a contract other than an agricultural district agreement(s), all land located in an agricultural district is eligible for the county's easement purchase program. Any lot excluded from the agricultural district in accordance with § 104-7 of this chapter is not eligible for an easement purchase.
Where an agricultural land district or woodland district has been formed by more than one landowner in order to meet the minimum size requirement (50 acres), the county will not purchase an easement or easements from landowner(s) unless the total land purchase meets the minimum district formation requirement. Rejection by one or more landowners of a county offer to purchase forfeits the landowner's right to sell an easement for a period of 12 months. Those landowners in the above-described circumstance who did not reject a county offer to purchase may reapply at any time, provided that all requirements for purchase are met and an updated opinion of value is prepared if there have been significant market changes.
Easement application process.
The landowner shall submit an application to sell an easement to the Program Administrator. The application shall be accompanied by an approved and activated soil and water conservation plan or a forest management program.
Applications for easement sales will be accepted during the 30 days prior to the filing dates of April 1 and October 1 of each year.
The Program Administrator will determine if the application is complete; review and evaluate the application and meet with the landowner within 60 days of the filing date. Based on these actions, the Program Administrator will determine if the land is eligible for purchase.
If the land is eligible for purchase, an appraisal and title search shall be obtained.
Within 10 days after receiving the appraisal and the results of the title search, the Program Administrator, at the direction of the Director, will notify the landowner if the landowner's application has been rejected for reasons of qualification. The remaining applications, in addition to any applications remaining from previous filing periods, will be ranked according to the established rating criteria.
Based on the ranking of each application, an offer to purchase, along with an easement agreement, may be tendered by the county to the landowner within 60 days of receiving the appraisal and results of the title search. The offer shall contain the specific terms of purchase, including additional terms, contingencies and conditions not contained in the original application.
The landowner shall have 30 days following the county's offer to accept the offer. If the landowner requests a second appraisal after an offer has been made, the offer shall be automatically withdrawn by the county. Upon the completion of the second appraisal (the expense of which will be carried by the requesting landowner), the landowner shall be considered an applicant for the purchase of an easement. Failure to respond in writing within 30 days after the offer has been made shall constitute a rejection of the offer. The landowner may reject the offer to purchase an easement up to the point of settlement. A landowner who rejects a county offer to purchase, forfeits the right to sell an easement on the site to the county for a period of 12 months.
Within five days of the landowner's acceptance of the county offer to purchase an easement, the Program Administrator shall notify the Board and the County Executive.
[Amended 10-17-2006 by Bill No. 2006-11]
Settlement will occur following the landowner's written acceptance of the county's offer to purchase an easement once all contingencies and/or conditions have been cleared. Payment may be in full or under an installment purchase agreement at the time of settlement after the easement purchase agreement has been fully executed. This agreement will be recorded with the deed of easement for the property in the land records of Wicomico County.
The landowner may request receipt of installment payments instead of payment in full at the time of settlement. If a schedule of installments is agreed upon, the Finance Director shall retain in the County Agricultural Land Preservation Fund an amount of money sufficient to pay the landowner according to the approved schedule of payment(s).
If there are insufficient funds available to purchase all of the easements offered, then the county may make offers according to the ranking system established by these regulations. Offers to sell an easement that do not receive an offer to purchase an easement from the county will automatically be held open and considered during the next filing period if funds are available at that time.
The county is not obligated to proceed with the processing of an easement application if the landowner fails to provide information requested by all county or state agencies, nor is the county obligated in any manner to make any land purchase.
Activities permitted on a parcel of land after an easement has been purchased are the same as those activities set forth in § 104-7A of this chapter.
A landowner may have lot(s) released from an easement under circumstances outlined in § 104-7B if the landowner:
If a larger parcel of land for residential construction than the one that was released is required for approval of a building permit by the County Health Department, the landowner may add sufficient land to the released lot if the landowner repays the county for the easement area and enters into a written agreement as outlined in Subsection B of this section.
Purchase of an easement by the county does not create a right of public access to the land unless the easement specifically provides for public access.
There is no restriction on the right of the owner to sell the land on which the county holds an easement, provided that the sale is subject to the easement agreement.
The value of the easement, which is the purchase price to be paid to the landowner by the county upon execution of an easement agreement, shall be based on an appraisal obtained by the county. A ratio of 60% of fair market value of fee simple land shall be used to calculate the development rights value of the property. This ratio shall be reviewed annually by the Program Administrator. After review and recommendation, the Director may authorize a change in the development rights value. If the landowner is dissatisfied with the appraisal obtained by the county, the landowner may obtain another appraisal at his or her sole expense that is prepared by an appraiser approved by the county. The price paid for the easement shall be the average of the two approved appraisals; but in no event less than the amount set forth in the county's appraisal.
The priority for the purchase of easements is based on factors which are necessary to preserve the county's agricultural lands and woodlands as determined by the Program Administrator. These factors include: land capability, size, consistency with the comprehensive plan and proximity to other districts. The following is an explanation of how these factors are rated on the easement sale prioritization formula form.
Soil capability. Soil capability is based on the United States Department of Agriculture soil capability classes and woodland suitability groups. After subtracting one acre for each dwelling from the proposed easement's total area, the rating of the remaining acreage is determined by assigning the following points:
Concentration of conservation lands. To encourage the acquisition of continuous easements, the following points will be awarded for districts beginning within 1.5 miles of other agricultural districts, easements or other permanent preservation easements as follows:
Area of district actively devoted to agriculture. To preserve the integrity of the county's agricultural preservation program, the following points will be awarded to districts based on the percentage of the farm actively devoted to agricultural activities. This includes the total acreage in crop fields, pasture land, livestock operations, agricultural buildings, etc. The total does not include woodlands, wetlands, lawns, home areas and other areas not used for agricultural purposes.
Consistency with the comprehensive plan.
An easement application for a district located in an area designated as agricultural/resource and located within the county's agricultural land preservation target areas will be awarded 15 points.
An easement application for a district located in an area designated as agricultural/resource but located outside of the county's agricultural land preservation target areas will be awarded eight points.
An easement application for a district located in an area designated for development purposes will be awarded zero points.
Farm owner operation. In order to target agricultural land preservation easement funding to local farm families and the continuation of active farming pursuits, the following points will be awarded based on the district owner's participation in the farming operation.
Applicant lives in the county and is actively involved in the management and operation of the farm: 20 points.
Applicant lives in the county but is not actively involved in the management and operation of the farm: 16 points.
Applicant does not live in the county and also is not actively involved in the management and operation of the farm: 12 points.
Rural legacy area. Farms located within a designated rural legacy area shall receive a preference for funding.
An easement purchased by the county shall be in perpetuity, except as follows:
After 25 years from the date of purchase of an easement, a landowner may request that the easement be terminated;
After review and recommendation by the Planning Director, the County Council, by ordinance, may authorize the termination of the easement; and,
Within 180 days after adoption of an ordinance authorizing termination, the landowner may repurchase the easement by paying to the county the difference between the estimated fair market value and the agricultural value of the land as set forth in an appraisal ordered by the county and paid for by the landowner.
A county agricultural district application or county easement application may not be approved if surface or subsurface mineral extraction (sand, gravel, shale, limestone, crude petroleum, natural gas, clay, fertilizer minerals, deep mined minerals, including bituminous coal) may occur in the future or currently takes place, or where extraction has occurred but the land has not been reclaimed in accordance with state and county law.
Before the county will consider such property for inclusion in its agricultural preservation program, the reclamation of the property shall be implemented by the landowner in accordance with state and county law. In addition, a soil and water conservation plan must be approved and implemented for the property.
[Amended 10-17-2006 by Bill No. 2006-11]
An executed agricultural district agreement and an easement purchase agreement shall be recorded in the land records of Wicomico County. In addition, each January, the Director shall prepare an annual report to the County Executive and County Council that reports all activities dealing with county agricultural districts and easements.
The Wicomico County Agricultural Land Preservation Program along with all its appendices is incorporated herein by reference as part of the chapter as though fully stated herein.
The establishment of agricultural preservation districts and the sale of agricultural preservation easements shall be subject to the terms of the Wicomico County Zoning Ordinance, the Wicomico County Subdivision Regulations and all other laws and regulations of Wicomico County, Maryland.