Farmland Acreage Dips in Montgomery
"Everything has a price," said Drew Stabler, 66, who farms 1,500 acres in the agricultural reserve with corn, soybeans and wheat. "The question for farmers is: How long do you want to resist?"
It's not just farmers who want to sell, however, who are looking askance at agricultural preservation efforts.
Increasingly, planners and economists have grown more skeptical of such plans, of which Montgomery's might be just one of the most prominent. In recent years, Loudoun and Prince William counties also have imposed restrictions at least partly intended to preserve farming, and "smart growth" measures in many Maryland counties were intended to do the same.
"Protecting farmland just for protecting farms is just another form of NIMBY," said Gerrit Knaap, executive director of the National Center for Smart Growth Research at the University of Maryland. "It sounds like heresy, but the problem with food in this country is not too little, it's too much."
Economists have argued, too, that such regulations might provide residents with open space and a sense of rural character but also drive up the cost of housing.
"Regulated land use designed to increase the quality of life does have costs," said Susan M. Wachter, a professor at the Wharton School of Business and an assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Clinton administration. In 1990, she co-authored a paper on the effect of Montgomery's land-use policies on home values. "It increases housing prices. It's simply a matter of supply and demand."
As a result, the future of the agricultural reserve -- long a cornerstone in the county's planning and beloved by some for its "u-pick" orchards and country scenery -- is not clear.
"We're not interested in paving over every square inch [in] Montgomery County," Silverman said. But "there will be tremendous pressure for us to encroach on the ag reserve."
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