Elder Continues Rural Legacy Program Opposition

SNOW HILL – County officials approved a conservation agreement with a landowner this week that will help preserve 914 acres in the Snow Hill area.

The Worcester County Commissioners voted 6-1 to approve a Rural Legacy Area easement agreement with E.S. Adkins. E.S. Adkins is giving up the majority of the property’s development rights and in exchange will receive slightly more than $700,000.

“The owner’s surrendering all subdivision and development rights save one residence,” said Bob Mitchell, the county’s director of environmental programs.

According to Mitchell, the property owner will be paid a price of $775 per acre through the Rural Legacy Program, which pays landowners for permanent conservation easements on their properties. The program is funded through a combination of state Program Open Space funds and general obligation bonds from the state’s capital budget.

“This price was derived using the two provided appraisals together with the easement value worksheet,” Mitchell said.

He said the property had minor subdivision rights for 25 to 28 lots. With the agreement approved this week, the landowner retains the rights to build just one residence on the property. The owner will also have to abide by impervious surface limits, which Mitchell said meant there would be no CAFOs or chicken houses built on the land.

He said staff supported moving forward with the easement.

“The negotiated price for this easement is lower than any per acre payment in the history of the Rural Legacy Program in Worcester County,” he said.

Commissioner Ted Elder, who typically votes against these types of requests, asked how much money the landowner would be receiving. Mitchell said it would be slightly more than $700,000 though the final amount would depend on a survey of the property.

Elder said that was $700,000 in taxpayer money.

“I guess you could say that, derived indirectly,” Mitchell said. “Again, this is a state program that’s not going anywhere. The county’s using it. If we don’t use these funds and implement the program we’ve implemented locally and preserve these areas, that money goes to another county.”

Elder said that the land had little road frontage, even if it did have development rights for 25-28 lots.

“That’s not to say they couldn’t create them,” Mitchell said.

He added that if the county didn’t move forward with the easement, the state could potentially buy the property.

“They’ve been buying similar properties in the watershed,” he said.

When Elder asked what the taxpayers would get out of the purchase, Mitchell said they would not have access to the property, as it remained private.

“The public’s not allowed on the land they’re paying $700,000 for,” Elder said.

Commissioner Bud Church said that if the funding wasn’t used by Worcester County it would just be used by another county.

“So they’re giving us the opportunity to preserve this land as opposed to it being preserved in Wicomico or Somerset or Allegany County,” Church said.

“Either way it’s taxpayer money going to an individual,” Elder said.

The commissioners voted 6-1, with Elder opposed, to approve the agreement.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.