(A)   Created.  There is hereby created in the county a Critical Farms Program to provide contract purchasers and new owners who have purchased farms within the previous 12 months with preservation funding. The program protects certain specific agricultural property from subdivision or residential development through the use of options to purchase development rights easements on the property. An applicant for this program shall apply to the Program Manager, who will determine the eligibility of the farm pursuant to the provisions of division (B) below.
   (B)   Eligibility.  To be eligible for this program a farm must meet each of the following criteria:
      (1)   The farm must meet the requirements of the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program for district formation and easement sale that are in effect at the time of the application, and must receive a favorable recommendation for district formation from the Advisory Board;
      (2)   The applicant must submit documentation that:
         (a)   The applicant is the contract purchaser of the farm; or
         (b)   The farm has been purchased by the applicant within the previous 12 months.
      (3)   For the purpose of this section, property zoned “C” shall be appraised as if having the same lot yield as property zoned “A”.
   (C)   Scoring.  Once eligibility requirements have been met, the Program Manager shall calculate the total number of points assigned to the farm, based on a priority scoring system in effect at the time of application and recommended by the Advisory Board and approved by the County Commissioners.
   (D)   Ranking.  All information regarding eligibility criteria and scoring of an individual farm property for program applications received by the Program Manager prior to the end of a calendar month shall be presented to the Advisory Board at its next monthly meeting. The Advisory Board shall decide whether or not to include the farm in the ranking system.
   (E)   Preliminary approval.
      (1)   Whenever the uncommitted funds of the Carroll County Agricultural Land Preservation Program may be sufficient to allow the funding of an option to purchase a development rights easement, the Program Manager will provide the County Commissioners with the list of the active applicants with ranking.
      (2)   The County Commissioners may grant preliminary approval to one or more applicants, always giving preference to the highest score. The County Commissioners may also determine that none of the properties on the list have a score which is high enough to justify an option to purchase a development rights easement through this program.
   (F)   Easement evaluation.  After preliminary approval, the County Commissioners shall authorize an appraisal of development rights easement value conducted according to the guidelines of the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program and shall consider any appraisal by the applicant. The appraisal shall be used by the county as the basis for approving an easement value.
      (1)   The maximum value of any development rights easement shall be the difference between the fair market value of the land and the agricultural value of the land. The fair market value of the land is the price as of the valuation date for the highest and best use of the property which a vendor, willing but not obligated to sell, would accept for the property, and which a purchaser, willing but not obligated to buy, would pay for the property if the property was not subject to any restriction imposed under this subchapter.
      (2)   The agricultural value of land is the value as determined by the agricultural value formula adopted by the MALPF for the fiscal year in which the application is received.
      (3)   When an agreement as to the easement value has been reached, the County Commissioners may grant the final approval of the option to purchase the development rights easement. Preliminary approval by the County Commissioners does not obligate them in any way to grant final approval.
   (G)   Option to purchase easement.
      (1)   Upon final approval by the County Commissioners, the county shall agree in writing to extend to the applicant an option to purchase a development rights easement, in an amount equal to 75% of the agreed upon value of the easement, which option shall extend for a period of five years.
      (2)   This option shall include a statement that the farm in question shall be created as an Agricultural Land Preservation District. The option shall be recorded in the Land Records of Carroll County.
   (H)   Easement sale.  The recorded option to purchase will require that the applicant and his or her heirs or assigns actively pursue for a period of five years the sale of an easement to the MALPF at an asking price no lower than the amount of the option to purchase the easement extended by the county. Any offer from the Foundation that equals or exceeds the amount of the option must be accepted by the applicant.
      (1)   If MALPF purchases a development rights easement from the applicant during this five-year period, the full amount of the county option shall be repaid at the settlement of the easement. Any offer made by MALPF which is equal to or greater than the amount of the county option must be accepted and the entire option amount paid to the county at the time of easement settlement. Settlement of a MALPF easement and payment of the proceeds to the county shall release the applicant from any additional obligation of the option to purchase by the county.
      (2)   If a development rights easement has not been purchased by MALPF within five years, the applicant may rescind the option to purchase by repaying to the county within 30 days the full selling price of the option, plus interest for the entire period of the option, at the legal rate in effect at the time of rescission. If the applicant does not cancel the option, the county will exercise the option contained in the agreement and purchase the development rights easement for such consideration as has already been established. The terms of the easement agreement will be the standard easement terms of MALPF.
(2004 Code, § 73-3)  (Ord. 02-18, passed 11-21-2002)