Frederick County is one of the most important agricultural counties in Maryland. Piedmont soils, an abundant water supply and a strong commitment to family farming allow the county to make a mark for itself in the agricultural industry. In the 1800s, the county was the largest wheat producer in the nation and, since World War I, it has been the largest dairy producer in the state, accounting for nearly one third of Maryland’s total milk production.With approximately 1,350 farms on more than 222,000 acres’, farmland dominates the landscape in Frederick, the largest county in Maryland. Other unique and valuable natural resources, such as the Monocacy River and Catoctin Mountains, add to Frederick’s special character.
Development pressure is strong in Frederick County because of its rural charm, combined with a multitude of natural resources and accessibility to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Md., and quickly growing business centers along Interstate 270 in neighboring Montgomery County The county’s population grew 110 percent, approximately 94,000 people, between 1970 and 1996. 2 The demand for development, particularly sprawling residential development, is forcing the county to make many difficult land use decisions. Perhaps the hardest decisions to make are those associated with residential growth.
This is a common trend throughout the country. Suburban developments are proposed, advocated and approved based on the argument that expanding the tax base will reduce local property taxes. Among other things, this has led public officials to believe that the key to making the local economy strong is building new homes and businesses, and has led property owners to oppose tax relief programs for farmland.
In response, American Farmland Trust, a private, nonprofit conservation organization, has developed an inexpensive and easy-tounderstand way to evaluate existing contributions of land uses. Cost of Community Services studies reorganize local financial records to determine the net effect of various land uses in a single fiscal period. COCS studies compare costs and revenues from residential, commercial and industrial sectors, and farms, forests and open lands to provide a snapshot of the financial contributions of current land uses to local governments.