County Council Discusses Repealing Development Rights Transfer Law

There was plenty of discussion Tuesday afternoon by the Frederick County Council Tuesday afternoon on whether to repeal an ordinance allowing for the transfer of development rights.

The Agricultural Rights Transfer Option (ARTO), which was enacted in November, 2014 by the former County Commissioners, allows for the transfer of development rights between agricultural properties. A copy of the ordinance says it’s intended to preserve prime farmland in the county.

But Planning and Permitting Director Steve Horn told the Council that when the law was enacted, the Maryland Department of Planning suspended the county’s Tier 4 exemptions. That allows for the development of major subdivisions (six or more lots) on agricultural and resource conservation properties without intervention by state agencies.

He says the State Planning Department has said in a letter that it will restore those exemptions if the Council repeals ARTO. “We miss the Tier-4 exemption if we don’t act soon,” says Horn. “And really that’s our motivation.”

But Councilman Tony Chmelik he’s not convinced that ARTO needs to be repealed in order to get the Tier-4 exemptions back. “I think we all agree that we want to preserve as much farmland as possible. But I think we also would like to be able to give more tools, even if not every farmer out there wants to use  this tool, to find a place where we can agree that there’s a happy medium here,” he said.

During the discussion, Principal Planner for Development Review, Mike Wilkins, said the suspension of the Tier-4 exemption, means that 80 lots cannot be developed. Chmelik took issue with that. “It seems odd to me that no one’s picking the phone up and calling Councilmembers and saying ‘you know, Tony, this is really killing me. I’m trying to get these lots developed and I can’t do it because you’re holding up the Tier 4 exemption because you’re being hard headed about the ARTO.’ I just haven’t heard it,” he says.

Councilman Billy Shreve wanted more details on these 80 subdivisions. “Because we spend all the money and effort, I want to see the math that says ‘this doesn’t work,’” he said. “I want to see the data from the state. I want to see the data from the county before we spend a lot of taxpayer dollars and years going through something we might not have to do.”

He and Councilman Kirby Delauter want Maryland Department of Planning representatives to come before the Council and discuss this issue.

But Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater supports repeal. “The best solution moving forward is to repeal this,” she says. “It is the only way we have to move forward that we feel pretty confident we can get that Tier-4 exemption back without having to through a pretty laborious process again.”

And her colleague, Vice President MC Keegan-Ayer, also supports repeal. “The state has said if you do any other alternative, any other options other than repeal it, and start to work again, we don’t get Tier-4 back,” she said.

The Council made no decision on Tuesday.