2008-01-04 / News

Farmland acquisition a success!

From the Town Administrator
By Bruce Keiser

All Jamestowners can look back on 2007 with pride and satisfaction that the long-standing dream to preserve 145 acres of historic farmland has become a reality. During the final week of December, both the Dutra and Neale families sold the development rights to their farms to a partnership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the R.I. Agricultural Preservation Commission, the Nature Conservancy and the Town of Jamestown. The Town was fortunate to have received $5.8 million in federal, State, and private foundation grants to assist in the $9.3 million acquisition. The local commitment now amounts to $3.5 million.

This is a significant achievement for a small community; however, it is not unprecedented for Jamestown residents who, 20 years ago, voted overwhelmingly to bond $2 million for the purchase of the golf course property to prevent housing development. It is an interesting coincidence that the $2 million paid in 1987 represents slightly more in inflation adjusted dollars ($3.7 million) than the local expense to acquire the development rights to the Dutra and Neale farms today.

As a result of the purchases, Jamestown is 100-percent guaranteed that the farms along the entire central corridor will be preserved - forever - continuing to serve as prime land for raising livestock and producing crops. The multiple, overlapping benefits to the town are obvious: promotion of local, sustainable agriculture; retaining our rural character, and saving scenic, open land spaces.

As reported last week, the Conanicut Island Land Trust has withdrawn a planned $1.82 million donation received from private contributors. To ensure that the town did not risk losing a onetime opportunity to save the farms, the Town Council acted quickly and voted to fill the funding gap with the full bonding authority approved by voters at the Special Financial Town Meeting in September. The Council's action increased the town's total bonding commitment from $1.6 million to $3.0 million. The DEM also responded generously - increasing the State funding by an additional $420,000. What do the Farm Preservation

Agreements provide for?

The Dutra and the Neale agreements limit new buildings to replacement of the farm houses and farm structures that must be designed with a New England architectural look. Farm-related retail is also permissible, in accordance with the town zoning ordinance, which allows sale of products grown on the farm. Both owners have granted a trail easement for future public access along a portion of the farm border.

The Dutras may construct one additional residence for a family member within a five-acre setaside. However, the entire property, if ever sold, must be transferred as one parcel.

In keeping with the Farm Development Rights purchases for all other active Rhode Island farms, both Deed Agreements allow the construction of farm-related buildings, roads, and parking areas not exceeding 2 percent of the deeded property. The R.I. Agricultural Land Preservation Commission, in consultation with the town, must approve any proposed new structure.

The Neale Farm Plan allows no development within the deeded area, thereby restricting all new farm related development to the four-acre site of the existing homestead.

At the request of the Dutras, the final agreement allows farm related structure up to two percent, within the deeded area. In addition, they retained five acres for a future family home and a 14.5-acre site at the center of the property where the farmstead and dairy barns are located. All development within the deeded area is subject to necessary state and town approvals. In addition, the Dutras and the town have entered into a Farm Management Plan, which delineates a 500' setback along North Main Road and Weeden Lane as a "Viewshed Protection Area." Within the viewshed area, only one farm structure and one farm retail building can be considered. Both will require approvals from the town and the state and must be historic New England design. Importantly, all conditions including size, setbacks, and type of farm retail will be regulated through the zoning ordinance.

Options for Giving…

The Conanicut Island Land Trust (CILT) has indicated that the Dutra Farm conservation agreement had changed "materially" in a manner that they could not support and withdrew the $1.82 million raised by the CILT over the last six months. If you gave to the CILT and still intend that your donation go towards the Farmland Preservation project, you may still gift in one of two ways: by asking the CILT to forward the funds to the town, or by getting the funding back from the CILT and gifting directly to the town. As with the CILT, giving to the town for this project is also tax deductible. All funds received will go directly towards the preservation of the Dutra and Neale Farms, and reducing town debt as originally intended.

If you have not had the opportunity to give to the project, you may still do so by sending a check or money order directly to the Town Finance Office, attention, Farmland Preservation Project, 93 Narragansett Ave., Jamestown, RI 02835.

I believe that the signed legal agreements achieve the mutual objectives of all the parties to support farmland viability and, simultaneously, preserve our scenic, rural open spaces. The agreements were reached based on the good faith efforts of the owners, representatives of the DEM and the Agricultural Land Preservation Commission. Clearly, the spirit of preserving the island's agricultural heritage and natural beauty were guiding principles motivating all who have been involved.

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