From the Desk of the President: Unusual Partnership Benefits All

Harry V. Webster, Jr, PresidentSince HLT’s early history, its founders and supporters have acted to preserve the health, beauty, and quality of life in the Deer Creek Watershed. In recent years, the HLT became a landowner on Deer Creek and a neighbor to the local residential and farm community, as well as H.P. White Laboratories, a munitions research and testing facility. The Harford Land Trust found itself in a unique position when our board was asked to evaluate H. P. White’s land and business situation as a result of the company’s request of a zoning change. The business wanted to expand its operations, and to do so, would require upzoning Agricultural (AG) zoned land to General Industrial (GI) zoning. The HLT board gathered information from local organizations, neighbors and people who care about the environment. We spoke with the landowners, investigated the property, and with the help of concerned members of the community, considered whether the zoning change would be positive.  HLT decided to take action.

 

When H. P. White’s Vice President, Eric Dunn, presented HLT with their zoning situation and business plan, we realized that the proposal was a “measured” expansion and that the company did not need, or plan to use, the benefits of full “GI” zoning.  HLT found that the landowner was willing to accept severe restrictions that would keep building and development to the agreed limits and prevent any future residential development of the land. As a result legal negotiation and creation of a permanent deed restriction that runs with the land, the HLT supported the requested change in zoning to GI.  HLT knew that it could help protect natural resources and at the same time enable a neighbor to have a measured expansion of its business operations even if that meant the property would be zoned General Industrial.

 

According to the agreement, the HLT will monitor the restrictions, limitations, and covenants on the deed. Those restrictions stay with the land in perpetuity. The deed restriction easement is one of many that the HLT holds. In this case, the deed is restricted in order to ensure that development and construction activities stay within the negotiated area and that impervious surface is minimal. These restrictions are in addition to all local, state, and federal laws and are applicable to the future development including stormwater management.

 

The Harford Land Trust obtained independent legal guidance and technical assistance in drawing up a legal document to restrict the deed. We secured expertise in the areas of real estate deed restrictions, environmental management and future land monitoring. Mike Elder, an attorney and environmental specialist, was hired by the HLT to help create the document and negotiate the terms of the agreement with H. P. White.  John Gessner, of Gessner, Snee, Mahoney & Lutche represented H. P. White Laboratories.

 

Saving land and protecting a watershed sometimes necessitates rethinking the connection landowners have with their surroundings. The White project involved protecting land from unfettered commercial development and residential sprawl, while at the same time improving a business’s long-term viability. The H. P. White Laboratory case is an example of why we need a strong land trust working in our community. It is for that reason that we are trained to assist landowners in evaluating their options and then manage that land in perpetuity to ensure it is safeguarded by ongoing stewardship.

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Harry Webster

President