- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Montgomery County, Md., will spend $6.7 million to preserve 2,200 acres in its northwestern end, a record-setting agreement that will help protect the mostly rural area from development.

The county said yesterday it will use a combination of state and local funding to buy the development rights to nine parcels in the Poolesville, Barnesville, Brookeville and Damascus areas.

Most of the land is used for farming, although one 352-acre parcel belongs to an investment group that was considering building houses on the site, the county said.

John Zawitoski, director of planning and promotion for the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development, said the county wants to keep development in its southern end from creeping northward.

"This is one tool to limit the amount of urban sprawl that reaches the rural areas," he said.

The county also wants to protect the farming industry, which contributes about $350 million to Montgomery's economy every year, Mr. Zawitoski said.

Seven of the parcels, or about 1,600 acres, will be preserved with $4.5 million from the Maryland Rural Legacy program, which helps local jurisdictions preserve spaces such as farmland and wetlands.

The remaining parcels, comprising 625 acres, will be preserved with $2.2 million from the county's own land preservation program.

The state approved the bulk of its contribution to the deal in December. The Montgomery County Council, which is expected sign off on the county's portion of the deal, will begin considering it today.

When approved, the deal will mark the largest amount of acreage targeted by the county for preservation at one time.

County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat, said the county will ask the state to help it preserve more land this year, even though funding for land preservation is limited.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which doles out the funding for the Rural Legacy program, said it already has received $96 million in requests for assistance this year, although it has only $38 million in its budget.

"Our message to the state is that if you approve it, we'll preserve it," Mr. Duncan said yesterday. He made his remarks at a press conference at one of the nine properties earmarked for preservation, a 217-acre family owned farm in Poolesville.

Last year, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Montgomery County Council President Blair Ewing, both Democrats, criticized Mr. Duncan for not doing enough to preserve land in Montgomery.

Calls to several building groups yesterday, including the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association, were not returned.

Land preservation has become popular nationwide among suburbanites who are frustrated by the overcrowded schools and automobile traffic that sprawl often produces.

A study to be published next week by the Land Trust Alliance, a D.C.-based group that monitors land preservation efforts, found voters endorsed 84 percent of the 208 land-protection ballot measures in state and local elections last year.

Mr. Zawitoski said Montgomery County has set aside 50,260 acres since the late 1980s, when it began preserving big parcels of farmland. Other D.C.-area jurisdictions also have stepped up their preservation efforts.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors last month set aside 945 acres for public parkland. The supervisors also approved a program that will let citizens donate money to a land-preservation fund, a county spokeswoman said.

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