‘No county can give away farmland’ (Viewpoint)
By BILL SYLVESTER
(Editor’s note: Bill Sylvester, a Queen Anne’s County farmer, lives in Queen Anne, Md.)
While I usually applaud The Delmarva Farmer’s opinions in its editorials, there are times when I feel you’ve gotten it wrong. Your piece entitled, “County running against the grain,” (Dec. 13) is one of those times. A few facts are in order.
The four tracts of farmland you refer to in your editorial are the Whalou properties at the corner of Route 50 and 213 just adjacent to Wye Mills and Chesapeake College; the Foster property, across from and adjacent to Wye Mills and Chesapeake College; the Sattelmaier Farm located off Main Street in Chester; and finally, the Sylvester property, located on the corner of Maryland Routes 404 and 309. The Sylvester property is owned by my family and has been for generations.
In your editorial you make several claims: That the Queen Anne’s County Farm Bureau gave their blessing to the zoning changes, the zoning changes went against the recommendation of the planning commission, the changes went against the wishes of the Talbot County Commissioners, the land in question totals 609 acres, and finally, Queen Anne’s County is giving away its farmland.
With regards to item one. The Farm Bureau neither gave nor withheld its blessing. As a member of its board of directors, I can tell you the conversation never even came up. Since my family owns one of the properties, I’m really not sure if you think I had some sort of duty to my fellow board members to bring it up for discussion. If they feel I should have done so, then I am now offering a public apology to them. If the board feels I failed, I will humbly tender my resignation.
I will say, though, that I feel the Queen Anne’s County Farm Bureau will back me up. For too long in this great county, we as farmers and property owners have suffered loss of our constitutionally granted private property rights from a select few, very wealthy, very secretive people who have operated behind and funded the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association.
Jay Falstad, executive director of QACA states in his op-ed piece to the (Easton) Star Democrat titled, Senator Pipkin: Fighting the Wrong War, “…the developers and farmland- speculators, who have captured the Maryland Farm Bureau… It is comments like this and others he has made that might give some reason as to why The Delmarva Farmer feels the Farm Bureau gave its “apparent blessing” to the rezoning. But just as Mr. Falstad’s comment about the State Farm Bureau being taken over by developers is false so is this paper’s assumption.
Item two: The zoning changes went against the recommendation of the planning commission. This is correct. But isn’t that why property owners have, as a last resort, the ability to present their case to an elected body? The planning commission is an appointed group. They are appointed by the commissioners, not unlike Supreme Court judges who are nominated by the president.
And just like there is always a great debate when a conservative president nominates a conservative judge or a liberal president nominates a liberal judge, the past three county commissions have been decidedly anti-growth and anti-property rights. Is it any wonder that some of the planning commission’s decisions have been questionable, debatable or at the very least, biased? Three of the five commissioners in this county are pro-growth and oriented towards the protection of private property rights. Two are not. Commissioners Arentz, Olds, and Dumenil looked at all the properties that were part of the rezoning ordinance and came to a different conclusion based on the facts presented.
Item three: The changes went against the wishes of the Talbot County commissioners. Yeah, so what? Did they consult with Queen Anne’s County when the Dolvin and Callahan farms, just outside of Wye Mills, were developed? And frankly, I wonder why this paper’s editorial staff cares what they think when that commission is decidedly unfriendly towards ag. The recent downzoning of ag land went completely against the wishes of that county’s Farm Bureau and farmers.
Item four: The land in question totals 609 acres. This amounts to 0.39 percent of the total farmland in the county. My goodness, at that rate in 254 years it will all be gone!
Item five: Queen Anne’s County is giving away its farmland. This is patently absurd. No county, including this one has the right to give away farmland that’s owned by anyone. That is protected by the Fifth Amendment under the Constitution. What this county has actively participated in, under the guise of environmentalism and smart growth, has been the giving (I should say taking) away of property rights. As far as I’m concerned, thank God Commissioners Arentz, Olds, and Dumenil are my commissioners that they have the guts to stand up against organizations like the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association.
I look forward to The Delmarva Farmer every week. Your newspaper has served the ag community admirably and with distinction for decades. But while I would grade you an A+ on content, this one time you missed the mark. Queen Anne’s County and this entire state is at a crossroads. While farmland preservation is a laudable, worthy goal, should it be done at the expense of reason and more importantly, property rights?