Chatham provides plan to guard agriculture | Columbia County


CHATHAM — Officials proposed a plan Tuesday to protect and nurture farmlands and other valuable open spaces in the town.

The Community Preservation Draft Plan is a collaborative effort among the Chatham Town Board, Chatham Agricultural Partnership, Chatham Conservation Advisory Council, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program and Cornell University.

The plan endorses the economic development, land protection and municipal policies to ensure that a critical mass of high-quality agricultural land remains available for farming.

It will target farmland, aquifers and water resources, scenic ridgelines, woodlands and wildlife habitats and recreation and trails. The plan is aimed at preventing farmers, homeowners and landowners from selling their property in exchange for sustaining their operations.

Adoption of the plan will allow the town to consider a public referendum where residents can decide whether to approve a community preservation fund. If approved, the fund would provide a reliable ongoing source for conservation easements or acquisition from willing landowners. It would furthermore enable the town to leverage significant state and federal conservation funding for farmland protection. The plan establishes eligibility for potential use of the fund.

Contributions to the fund are expected to come from different sources, Town Supervisor Donal Collins said, describing it as a three-pronged fiscal approach.

“The first prong is the development of the Community Preservation Plan, which we developed as a draft,” Collins said. “Once the plan is adopted it’s going to go to a community fund and advisory board. That’s the second prong. The third prong is a real estate transfer tax.

“Tax exemptions are above the county median household price,” Collins added. “The tax itself hasn’t been voted on by the board yet. We have a range of zero to 2% of the value above the median sale price. The town board over the next few meetings will decide on what they want to place the figure at. That figure will generate money to go into the community preservation fund which will be then be received by the point of advisory board.”

The advisory board will look at the parcels that they prioritized in the plan, Collins said. When the outreach to the homeowner happens, they can discuss how much they have in order to allocate to the owner to potentially purchase development rights.”

Preserving farmland in rural areas is important because farming proved residents with food, and farms can offset the greenhouse gas emissions associated with climate change, Collins said.

“This Preservation Plan Draft will allow farmers to sell their redevelopment rights and get a certain amount of money to reinvest in their infrastructure and land to continue to farm it,” Collins said. “What we’re trying to do is preserve our farmland and identify which parcels are the best for farmlands. I think it’s critical in New York State. We’re seeing the rise of solar development and the loss of farmland. We need to keep our farmland available for crops, for pasteurizations, beef, chicken and pork. It’s important to keep our agricultural areas.”

One public hearing will be for the adoption of the plan, to adopt a community preservation fund and advisory board, Collins said. The final step will be to identify a real estate transfer tax figure that everyone agrees on.

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