Windsor Conservation Commission
Preservation of Land for Agricultural Use
 
How Can We Preserve Prime Areas?

 
 

At a public workshop on conservation issues, a discussion group proposed the the goal for the community should be to preserve all 3.661 acres of existing agricultural land for farm use.  Such a goal is not practical when considering that a significant portion of this land is already zoned for industrial uses and constitutes the bulk of available land for economic development in Windsor.

"Prime farmland" is defined by the Connecticut Department of environmental Protection (DEP) as "land that has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, forage fiber, oilseed crops, and is also available for these uses” (i.e. undeveloped). This land could be cropland, pastureland, rangeland or forestland. Prime agricultural soils are mapped by the DEP and their location in Windsor is illustrated by the map which can be accessed on the left.

As the Agricultural Resources map illustrates, there is not always a correlation between prime farmland, actual farming and the Agricultural (AG) Zone. The areas identified as prime agricultural soils at risk are currently zoned for some other purpose than agriculture but may still be actively farmed. The protected prime agricultural soils benefit from AG zoning that generally limits their use to agricultural purposes. However, the AG zone does allow for housing at a low density of one
unit per three acres.

The AG Zone should not be considered as a holding zone, to be rezoned for higher density residential development in thefuture. The AG zoning of prime agricultural soils, especially those that are being actively farmed, should be maintained to preserve some of Windsor’s rich agricultural heritage in the most appropriate locations. Those AG zoned areas that are not actively farmed should retain their AG zoning for future agricultural use or as a last resort, for low-density housing at
a density of 0.3 units per acre or less as a special permit. Such residential development should employ an open space development pattern that clusters development on one-third of the parcel while preserving two-thirds of the acreage for future farming or open space. AG zoned land that has already been put to more intensive uses such as nursing homes, and tiny isolated parcels that may be impractical to farm should be reevaluated for possible rezoning.


Ways of Preserving Agricultural Lands

State Programs - Purchase of Development Rights

The best method of preserving prime farmland is through a program that purchases development rights from farmers. TheState of Connecticut has such a Farmland Preservation Program that accomplishing four things:

• the farms remain in private ownership and can be farmed in perpetuity;
• the farmland can never be developed;
• farmers receive an infusion of cash, eliminating the need to sell for development; and
• the land value for tax purposes is permanently reduced.

Funding limitations at the state level have made this program very competitive but thousands of
acres of farmland throughout Connecticut have been preserved.  Despite the positive benefits and no expense to the Town, no farmland has been preserved in Windsor through this program. Windsor should encourage local farmers to apply for this program and offer assistance if necessary.

Local Programs - Regulatory

Windsor’s Zoning Regulations contain an Agricultural Zone (AG). The 1991 Windsor Plan of Development recommended that the Agricultural Zone be used to help preserve the agricultural heritage of the community. The Agricultural Resource map illustrates the approximately 3,894 acres of land in Windsor that are zoned AG. Of this land, approximately:

• 1,680 acres are used for agricultural purposes (43%);
• 518 acres are used as managed or dedicated open space;
• 259 acres are vacant land; and
• 1,440 acres, or 37% of the zone, is developed for other uses, typically single-family residences.

The AG Zone allows for a variety of agricultural activities and the accessory uses necessary to support them. However, the zone allows single-family residential uses and subdivisions of 10 lots or less at the low density of 0.3 families per acre. The AG zone could be made a more effective preservation tool by increasing the open space setaside requirement and reducing the allowable residential density to encourage preservation of agricultural lands.

Local Programs - Farm Assessment

Windsor participates in a program authorized under Section 12-107 of the Connecticut General Statutes, often referred to as P.A. 490 that allows a community to assess farmland at a lower value when it is actively farmed. As a result, active farms benefit from a lower tax assessment, helping maintain the viability of the farm under sometimes difficult economic conditions. Windsor should continue to offer this program to assist farmers with maintenance of agricultural uses.

Local Programs - Purchase

Towns have used local funds to purchase farms or development rights to for the benefit of the community. Towns can:

• purchase farms outright to operate them;
• purchase farms outright to lease them back to the farmer or others for farm use; or
• purchase development rights allowing the farm to remain in private ownership, but assuring the property will be used in perpetuity for agricultural uses.

The Conservation Commission is currently working on a local purchase of development rights program to assist in farmland preservation.

Agricultural Land Trusts

Land trusts are a good vehicle for preserving land. Agricultural land trusts are dedicated to holding and leasing farmlands.  The American Farmland Trust operates nationwide to preserve farms and address farmland issues. The Working Land Alliance, a recently established Connecticut farmland preservation organization, has established the Connecticut Farmland Trust for the donation of land and funds for agricultural preservation.

Education

Windsor could further assist farmers and be “farm friendly” by:

• providing for good signage and marketing of local farms in the community;
• organizing local fairs and events around agricultural themes; and
• considering adoption of a “right to farm policy” that supports agricultural activities.

Purchase of Development Rights
Programs that purchase development rights assist farmers by:

  1. Preserving the best agricultural lands as farmlands,
  2. Providing an opportunity for farmers to purchase land at affordable prices,
  3. Providing working capital to enable farm operations to become economically stable,
  4. Helping farmers overcome estate planning problems, which often result in farmland loss.

 

 

 


 


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