Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Ellington develops system for buying farm rights

By Stacey A. Silliman
Journal Inquirer
February 27, 2008

ELLINGTON - The Conservation Commission has developed a ranking system to evaluate how the town should spend the $2 million approved by voters in November to buy the development rights to local farmland.

Town Planner Robert Phillips said the commission met with selectmen and Finance Board members on Tuesday to discuss the ranking system, which the commission adopted last month.

"It creates a quantifiable way to compare and differentiate between properties," he said.

According to Phillips, the ranking system has been loosely coordinated with other federal and state land preservation guidelines.

"We had to develop some process and try and match it with other programs so we can leverage other funds for the purchase of the rights," he said.

The ranking system includes a land evaluation, site assessment, and descriptive assessment. The assessments include consideration of whether the property is prime farmland or farmland of statewide importance. They also include consideration of the property location as it relates to the town's Open Space Plan and the town's ability to use other funds to help buy the land's development rights.

The ranking system assigns points to properties based on each item considered.

Phillips said there is no minimum score for a property to qualify for purchase by the town.

In contrast to state-level programs to acquire farmland development rights, the town isn't limited to spending a specific dollar amount per acre, Phillips said. The state, by contrast, can spend no more than $10,000 per acre for development rights.

Selectwoman Laurie Burstein, who attended Tuesday's meeting, said local farmers should look into what the town can offer for their development rights before dismissing the idea.

"I think it's a great opportunity for farmers and the town," Burstein said.

Phillips said the town, which hasn't yet approached or been approached by any farmer about acquiring development rights, is developing a strategy to educate landowners about the benefits of selling their rights to the town.

"If the commitment is to farming, then it's a no brainer," Philips said of allowing the town to buy development rights.

Among the potential benefits to farmers who participate in the preservation program would be a lower property-tax bill and the ability to liquidate the value of their land immediately, according to Phillips.

He explained that sale of the development rights to a piece of land would lower its assessment, and thus its taxes, by limiting the land's development potential.

The town also benefits from the preservation of farmland, Phillips said, because residents often cite Ellington's rural nature as a reason for their decision to live here.

©Journal Inquirer 2008