By Mary Alice Bisbee
Warren Conservation Commission members Tara Hamilton and Damon Reed got what they came for from the town select board: a commitment of $125,000 from the town Conservation Reserve Fund.
“...to support the Kingsbury Community Farm Project and recommend to the Warren Select Board a contribution of up to $125,000 from the Warren Conservation Reserve Fund. Those funds would be specifically earmarked for the purchase of a conservation easement and a public access easement protecting the conservation and public recreational values of the property and reflecting the priorities identified in the Warren Conservation Plan. The value of the conservation easement and public access easement shall be determined by a qualified appraiser. Furthermore, Warren’s Conservation Reserve Fund would leverage other public and private grants by contributing to the fee acquisition of this land by a private non-profit organization or organizations dedicated to the public use of the property for agriculture, recreation, education and community events. Should the contribution be needed before an appraisal of the Kingsbury property has been completed, the Warren Conservation Commission would support contributing up to $125,000 towards the project with the understanding that moneys paid above the appraised value would be returned to the town and placed back in the Warren Conservation Reserve Fund.”
The overall consortium of several local nonprofits, the Mad River Watershed Conservation Partnership, was represented by Linda Lloyd and Liza
Walker of the VT Land Trust to explain the environmental and community goals of this new joint venture. They explained their need for town support and funding to proceed with their negotiations with the current owners to purchase the former 20.2-acre Kingsbury Farm beside the Mad River at the northern entrance to Warren on Route 100.
At present, the real estate contract is signed by a single individual representing a newly formed entity, the Kingsbury Community Farm, LLC, a for-profit corporation supported by several local and state nonprofits. This contract is due to expire on September 15 if substantial funding cannot be obtained, or at least identified.
The board asked numerous questions about the goals of this loosely bound group of organizations (which includes Yestermorrow, Friends of the Mad River, Mad River Path Association, Open Hearth, Rootswork, the Center for Whole Communities [Localvore] and were given detailed replies as to how the group is committed to establishing a riparian buffer area along 2,391 feet of frontage on the Mad River to protect water quality, improve aquatic habitat, and contribute to the overall health of the Mad River.
They also plan to protect approximately 18 acres of prime agricultural soils in perpetuity as well as setting up a successful, affordable agricultural enterprise which would either be retained by the consortium or sold to a new farmer. Affordable housing will also be perpetually provided. The community will be served by access to swimming holes, riverside recreational paths, use of the barn for community programs, educational opportunities and a community garden.
Select board member Burt Bauchner asked whether there would be an adverse economic impact of the project on local farmers, who are still struggling to sell their produce during the short three-month growing season.
The reply was that many local farmers were delighted to learn that the barn may be used to provide a spring/fall farmers’ market for their produce which would greatly enhance the quantity of food they can produce and sell locally.
PROPERTY TAX IMPLICATIONS
Local resident, Butch Hartshorn, asked about the property tax implications: the possibility that this prime property would be taken off the tax rolls, and thus be a greater burden to other taxpayers. It was explained that the property has been designated a for profit entity which would pay taxes.
After the unanimous vote of support, select board chair Mac Rood summed up the meeting by stating, “This is exactly what the Conservation Fund monies should be used for.”
The select board and the Conservation Commission have the authority to use the reserve fund to make quick decisions between Town Meetings.