February 13

Robert McCartney’s Feb. 5 Metro column, “Feeling pinched by the war on sprawl,” accurately outlined the debate between sprawl and growth that preserves agriculture and natural resources, but it perpetuated the myth that farmers get more money by selling their land to developers. 

The column quoted a Charles County Farm Bureau spokesman saying that he could fetch $200,000 an acre if he sold to a developer. In reality, what matters is what the market is willing to pay, not what a farmer thinks his land is worth. A landowner in rural Charles County could expect an average of $3,790 per acre, based on an analysis of farm sales since 2000. Moreover, there is a large supply of residential lots in Charles County, with more than 1,400 lots ready to be developed in rural areas. It could take more than 10 years to develop those lots based on recent trends. Given healthy commodity prices, the market may be stronger for crops than for houses.  

The Maryland Department of Planning compared farm sales in counties with weak and strong rural zoning (or other protective measures) and found that protective zoning typically does not devalue agricultural land. Local and state programs encourage farming, including purchase or transfer of development rights, preferential agricultural land assessments and right-to-farm laws.

We look forward to working with Charles County leaders and residents for smart growth that protects agriculture and the environment.

Richard Eberhart Hall, Baltimore

The writer is head of the Maryland Department of Planning.