Being good neighbor is goal of ‘right to farm’ bill

February 15, 2012

Prince George’s County officials and farmers hope proposed legislation ensuring people have a “right to farm” in the county’s rural tier will promote growth in the agricultural industry.

The bill, introduced Tuesday to the Prince George’s County Council by council member Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro), would limit homeowners’ ability to halt a “legitimate” neighboring agricultural operation through complaints to the county.

The rural tier consists of much of the southeastern part of the county, including the communities of Baden, Croom and Aquasco, and also travels along the south of the county along Accokeek Road and includes Accokeek in the southwestern part of the county.

Yates Clagett, president of the Prince George’s County Farm Bureau, who raises beef cattle in Baden and helped craft the legislation along with members of the Prince George’s County Association of Realtors, said the bill will prevent problems that could arise as more housing developments pop up in the rural tier.

Clagett said he estimates there are more than 600 farms in the county. He based the estimate on requests for soil conservation plans through his work at the Prince George’s Soil Conservation District, which focuses on preventing erosion and natural resource degradation for all proposed developments in the county.

“You want to be proactive about it. As we develop and grow as a county, we’ll have development in the rural tier,” Clagett said. “It’s going to happen. So we need to put something in place that not only protects farmers but” informs potential home buyers.

According to the U.S. Census, Prince George’s population has increased 7.7 percent from 2000 to 2010, from about 801,500 people to about 863,400.

Franklin said that although there is not a problem with farms being shut down by neighbor complaints that the bill is intended to ensure the county’s agricultural industry can thrive in the future.

“We want to protect [farmers’] ability to continue their way of life,” Franklin said. “It confirms the county has a strong interest in having farming continue as a viable way of life in the county for the long term.”

Clagett said the bill includes the creation of a “reconciliation committee” that would serve to mediate conflicts between farmers and neighboring homeowners, which could arise from issues such as “noise, odor, fumes, insects, dust, chemical application and the operation of machinery at various times,” according to the bill.

The bill also includes provisions that adds language that would inform home buyers in various rural and open space land-use zones about the potential for agricultural activity in their prospective neighborhoods.

Mike Graziano, director of government affairs for the Prince George’s County Association of Realtors, said letting home buyers know about farms or the potential for agricultural operations before they buy a home will help real estate agents in the long run.

“It benefits our members to disclose this up front,” Graziano said. “You don’t want to have an unhappy home buyer who feels they were unaware of a nuisance, in their opinion, and they have no legal remedy. . . . It behooves everyone involved to have this disclosure up front, so you don’t have a disgruntled home buyer on the back end.”

Greg Wilby is general manager of Chesapeake Custom Homes, a Bowie-based home builder and real estate company that is selling new homes adjacent to an Upper Marlboro berry farm. Wilby said that although he thinks there already is an inordinate amount of paperwork and disclosures required for potential home buyers that adding one more disclosure on the potential of farming activities and possible associated smells and other effects wouldn’t be overly onerous for real estate agents.

“While I’m not fond of additional paperwork, it probably wouldn’t be a significant problem to provide that disclosure,” Wilby said. “But, I think, most people shopping in the rural area have some previous experience with living out there, and that’s why they seek it. So they’re familiar with the idea that living near farms poses certain ‘situations.’ ”

The bill will be sent to the County Council’s Transportation, Housing and Environment Committee for a hearing.

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