Montgomery County’s Slow Motion Kelo

While I think most of us can sign onto the concept of zoning laws the manner in which those laws are being used to regulate development and growth in exurban Maryland is problematic.

Aesthetically, most of us appreciate open space and farmland. But the recreational use and general ambiance of those open spaces are overshadowed by three factors. First, the land is desirable for development. Second, small farming is a very marginal economic activity. Third, and most importantly, that land belongs to someone who has an extraordinary financial interest in how it is used.

We’ve written about Howard County trying to ensure that only the righteous are allowed to develop land there and a similar drama, though without the theological undercurrent, is playing out in Montgomery County.

Continue below the fold.

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The issue revolves around how the 93,000 acres in western Montgomery County now zone as Agricultural Reserve will be preserved. The zoning in that area limits development to one home per 25 acres (full disclosure, I live in a Agricultural Reserve area).

The inhabitants want to be able to continue to subdivide their property under the Child Lots provisions in the law in order to provide their children with a lot upon which they can build. Sadly, few farmer’s kids can afford to buy in Montgomery County.

There are claims by “advocates” for the Agricultural Reserve system that the system is being abused and that the Child Lot exemption is being used to build homes for persons who are not related to the landowner.

The core issue, however, is land use. What the “advocates” here are doing is essentially inflicting a form of Kelo v. New London in which they are taking the farmland for a “public use.” Actually, it is more severe than Kelo because no compensation is being offered. The taking here is just as real as if the land were confiscated because where there is a very hot market for 1-acre lots there is virtually no market for 25-acre-plus lots for anything other than as country estates for people who feel cramped in Potomac.

Property rights either exist or they don’t. When we’ve arrived at a point where persons with no definable interest in your property can dictate how your property can be used then property rights have ceased to exist. That is where we are in Maryland.

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