Council OKs Rural Legacy Deal

SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County approved a conservation easement with the landowners of a property on Cherry Walk Road last week in an effort to preserve nearly 200 acres of land within the Quantico Creek watershed.

Last month, the Wicomico County Council voted 5-0, with two councilmen abstaining, to approve a Rural Legacy Area easement acquisition on Cherry Walk Road.

Frank McKenzie, chief of technical services and environmental planning for Wicomico County, said the landowners will receive $172,000 for the property in exchange for a protective easement that limits development and protects trees, plants and wildlife on the site.

“Today we are seeking approval for the purchase of an easement on this property on the north side of Cherry Walk Road,” he said.

For this project, McKenzie said the county partnered with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Lower Shore Land Trust and the Department of the Navy, which contributes to the purchase of conservation easements that fall under its flight paths.

Since its inception in 2002, the Wicomico County Rural Legacy Program has utilized more than $10 million in state, federal and local funding to protect easements within its Rural Legacy Area.

“To date, we have protected 4,553 acres, which include 17 projects ranging from 52 acres to 785 acres,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie said the county does not spend money to protect lands that do not have development potential. He said the Cherry Walk Road property has development potential and is allowed a maximum of seven lots.

“By purchasing this easement, we will be reducing the number of lots out in a rural area,” he said.

As part of the easement agreement, the property owners will be allowed to establish one primary single-family dwelling and one accessory dwelling unit. However, they would forfeit rights to any further subdivision activity on the site.

“The program is completely voluntary,” McKenzie said.

Council President John Cannon questioned if officials still prioritized properties within the Rural Legacy Area.

“Do you still follow that?” he asked. “Or are you just trying to get whatever you can?”

McKenzie noted the program does identify properties of high priority. He said factors such as soil, accessibility and water frontage, for example, are taken into consideration.

“We do rank those,” he said. “Then all the ones that meet certain standards will have land priority one [classification].”

Cannon also questioned how property owners within the Rural Legacy Area hear about the program. Lower Shore Land Trust’s Jared Parks said individuals learn about the program through formal letters and by word of mouth.

“If landowners hear about the program, it’s generally from their neighbors who are in the program …,” he said. “We do outreach as well.”

McKenzie said Wicomico County had $1.5 million allocated from the state to purchase new Rural Legacy easements. He said a certified appraiser, W.R. McCain and Associates, valued the conservation easement on Cherry Walk Road at roughly $1,002 per acre.

“The landowners have accepted that certified appraisal,” he said. “So they accepted an easement cost of $172,000.”

With administrative and closing costs of more than $32,000, the conservation easement for the Cherry Walk property totaled $204,485.

With no further discussion, the council voted 5-0, with Councilmen Bill McCain and John Hastings abstaining, to approve the acquisition of the conservation easement.

McCain said he abstained because he is the president and CEO of the appraisal firm used to value the property. Hastings said he abstained because he is an employee of Lower Shore Land Trust.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.