Howard County, Maryland

Howard County, population 247,842 (2000), is located 20 miles southwest of Baltimore and 30 miles north of Washington, DC. The County has a Density Exchange Option and a Cluster Exchange Option designed to give owners of farmland in two zoning districts an incentive to preserve large parcels of farmland in rural areas. In a letter of March 16, 2005, Joy Levy, Administrator of the Agricultural Land Preservation Program, corrected the Process section of the profile published in Beyond Takings and Givings. To aid in understanding the corrected Process section follows as well as a completely rewritten Program Status section provided by Ms. Levy.

Howard County uses TDR to preserve farmland.


Sending sites must be zoned RC, (Rural Conservation.) The RC zone allows farming, conservation and single family residential at a density of one unit per 4.25 acres when cluster subdivision provisions are used. When the Cluster Exchange Option (CEO) is used, development rights can be transferred from sending sites to receiving sites at the rate of one unit per 4.25 acres, a transfer ratio of one-to-one. But under the Density Exchange Option (DEO), rights can be transferred at the rate of one unit per three acres, a transfer ratio of 1.4-to-one.

Sending sites must be at least 20 acres in size. A preservation easement must be recorded on a sending site before transfers can occur.

Under the CEO provisions, only land zoned RC can serve as receiving sites. Under the DEO provisions, receiving sites can be zoned either RC or RR (Rural Residential). Under the DEO program, if the receiving site is zoned RC, receiving sites must be less than 50 acres in size and adjacent to lots that are ten acres or less in size.

The base density under either the CEO or DEO is one unit per 4.25 acres. Using either option, extra density can be gained by acquiring one TDR for each additional dwelling unit above the base density. Under either program, the maximum density after transfers is one unit per two acres, a density bonus of 112.5 percent.

The Department of Planning and Zoning tentatively approves applications for CEO or DEO if it determines that the extra density can be accommodated on the receiving site while still protecting sensitive environmental features. Final approval is accomplished through the subdivision map process.

Program Status

The County acquires dedicated preservation easements through the subdivision process, either as sending parcels in the DEO/CEO program, or as a result of the mandatory clustering provisions that apply to the Rural Conservation zoning district. These dedicated parcels can be designated as either agricultural or environmental.

The County started acquiring dedicated easements in 1994, and this technique has proven to be a very successful tool in the County’s preservation toolbox. As of December 2004, the County had 347 dedicated easements, totaling 6,647 acres. Of those, 50 parcels are agricultural (2,017 acres) and 297 parcels are environmental (4,540 acres).

The County Agricultural Land Preservation Program is the sole easement holder of the agricultural easements. The environmental easements require two co-holders, which could be the County, a state or local land trust or a homeowners association. Of the almost 300 environmental easements, 91 percent are jointly held by Howard County and homeowners associations, 7 percent are held jointly with the Howard County Conservancy and 2 percent are co-held by the Audubon Society.

In addition to the dedicated easements, the County preserves farmland by purchasing agricultural easements. The State of Maryland also purchases agricultural easements in Howard County. Overall, the County has preserved 19,362 acres in agricultural easements. This is comprised of 13,309 acres in County-purchased easements, 3,954 acres in State-purchased easements and 2,017 in County-dedicated easements.