Dairy farmers are 1st to sell development-rights to county

Aubrey Cohen, The Bellingham Herald


The Whatcom County Council approved the county's first purchase of farmland development rights Tuesday - two years after creating its farmland-protection program.

The county agreed to pay $480,000 to buy the development rights for Howard and Judith Holz's 40-acre dairy farm on Hemmi Road. The price is the difference between the farm and development value of the land, which has four existing lots and potential for four more. The idea is to allow farmers to profit while ensuring land stays in agriculture and is affordable for future farmers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will reimburse half of the purchase price. The county is using Conservation Futures fund money for the rest and for $34,350 in associated costs, such as payments to the Whatcom Land Trust to administer the arrangement.

The USDA awarded Whatcom County just more than $1 million in June to buy development rights on three more farms, and added another $135,000 last week. The county has estimated the cost of the purchases at $2.6 million.

The Holz farm is one of three the council had agreed to pursue purchases on in the first round of buyouts. One of the other two farmers pulled out, only to reapply for round two, while the third was unable to resolve title issues by a county deadline, county planner Kraig Olason said.

The Conservation Futures levy collects just more than 6 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation - about $9 a year for a $150,000 home. The levy is budgeted to bring in about $800,000 in 2004 and had accumulated about $2.8 million by the start of this year.

Reach Aubrey Cohen at aubrey.cohen@bellinghamherald.com or 715-2289.



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