On May 3, 2010, Baltimore County published the Master Plan Rural Areas Amendment to the 2010 County Master Plan. This amendment was created to comply with the County Charter’s requirement that the Master Plan be reviewed and revised at least every ten years. The Master Plan Amendment was also drafted to comply with the Maryland Agricultural Stewardship Act of 2006. This Act “provides for the establishment of priority preservation areas by charter counties.” The Rural Areas Amendment continues Baltimore County’s efforts, since 1974, to place agricultural lands in permanently protected easements.
The Master Plan Amendment identifies four general policies to guide the County’s efforts to protect rural lands:
- Permanently preserve lands for agriculture and natural resources to achieve the goal of at least 80,000 acres.
- Recognize and promote sustainable agriculture as a vital economic, commercial, and industrial activity that requires permanent protection.
- Manage development to protect agricultural lands and prevent conflicts between agricultural operations and incompatible uses.
- Ensure the proper management of agricultural lands to protect water quality and natural resources.
“Significant public funds have been invested in the permanent protection of cropland, pasture and woodland to maintain and foster a viable agricultural industry” (2010 Master Plan Amendment). A new focus on “sustainable” agriculture is a change from previous master plans. Recognizing the need for farms to be profitable and the importance of commodity production, the Rural Areas Amendment seeks to build on preservation success and increase the role of local food production. The benefits of local food production include energy conservation, sustainability, and national security. Promoting local farms can provide better quality meat and produce; can provide food security as costs to transport food increase, and supports employment in agriculture.
As explained in the Amendment, “One major goal of the Master Plan is to protect agricultural and sensitive environmental areas of the rural county for future generations. This objective is achieved through use of the following comprehensive growth management measures: the urban-rural demarcation line, zoning classifications, land use regulations, the purchase and donation of permanent conservation easements on the land, and the implementation of recommended actions of the Master Plan.”
The County’s Urban-Rural Demarcation Line (URDL) concentrates development in areas already served by water and sewer infrastructure. The Master Plan Amendment strives to protect natural resources, or working lands, by limiting development in the remaining rural area. Here, the emphasis is on conservation of natural resources. In urbanized areas, inside the URDL, the environmental focus is to restore impaired habitats and water quality.
In the next issue of our newsletter, we will discuss the incorporation of the 2010 Master Plan Amendment into the new 2020 County Master Plan and how the GVC, as a land trust, supports preservation of the County’s rural lands and cultural heritage.