10/30/2009

By Lisa Loomis

Waitsfield will contribute $20,000 towards the Hartshorn farmland conservation project, which will preserve 40 acres of prime ag land north of Waitsfield Village.

The select board voted on that sum at its October 26 meeting. Paul Hartshorn, owner of the land and also a member of the select board, absented himself from the meeting during that portion of the discussion and did not vote on the proposal.

Hartshorn and his wife Marie are working with the Vermont Land Trust to conserve 40 acres of land that his, son David Hartshorn of Santa Davida, farms, raising organic produce and fruits. The development rights will be purchased from the land and ownership transferred to David Hartshorn.

In approving the expenditure of $20,000 from the town's Conservation, Recreation and Restroom fund for this project, board members also proposed researching the legal agreement between the land trust and the Hartshorns and making sure the town is a party to it. That action came after Old Summer Camp Road resident John Donaldson came before the board to voice concerns about other land conservation projects where the legal agreements required that the "scenic value" of a farm be preserved.

CONSERVATION DEED

Donaldson cited a Waitsfield conservation project on Maple Avenue where, he said, "there are more old cars than Hap's, enough appliances for an appliance store" and many, many old tires. He recommended that the town add some of its own language to any conservation deed and also retain some enforcement authority.

Liza Walker, of the Mad River Valley Conservation Partnership and the Vermont Land Trust, told the select board that the issue of requiring farmers to keep a "tidy farmstead" had come up in the past but noted that when it did, the land trust felt there was not language in the deeds and easements that allowed the agency to address preserving the scenic value of a farm.

"You're not accurately reflecting what I read. The land trust has the authority to enforce the language in the easements, but, as I understand it, you're unwilling to do so," Donaldson said to Walker.

Board member Sal Spinosa asked Walker if a town "tidiness clause" would deter conservation efforts. Walker said it could.

EASEMENT LANGUAGE

Donaldson persisted, reading the standard easement from conservation documents: "The placement, collection or storage of trash, human waste or other unsightly materials shall not be allowed, except when the visibility meets with the approval of the grantees."

Select board chair Kate Williams suggested that the town research easement language to ensure that future conservation projects are properly maintained and what tools are available for the town to use.  She queried board members Spinosa and Charlie Hosford on what amounts they felt appropriate for the town to contribute to the project. Spinosa suggested $20,000. Hosford concurred. The fifth board member, Bill Parker, was out of town.

THE RIGHT AMOUNT

"Since this is a gateway property to our community, I feel comfortable that $20,000 is the right amount," Williams said.

The Vermont Land Trust has applied for Vermont Housing and Conservation Board funds for the project, which will be used with other funds to purchase the development rights on the 40 acres, some of which is open and farmed and other portions of which have pre-existing subdivision lots permitted on them. Those lots were created in a circa 1998 subdivision.

Paul and Marie Hartshorn own the 40 acres in question, plus other parcels of land on which there are currently five permitted building lots. Those lots were permitted in 2007 after a legal battle over whether the town could require new subdivisions to have the potential for road connectivity to other subdivisions.

APPRAISAL VALUE

The 40 acres have been appraised although the appraisal value is private. The funding formula for the project consists of approximately two-thirds of the $350,000 to $400,000 total cost of the project being funded by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and a third of it being funded by the Mad River Conservation Partnership with a donation from the Hartshorns, and additional fundraising, including the town's $20,000 contribution.

The project received preliminary approval from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) in 2007 and said the application for some $300,000 in funding will be submitted to VHCB this month. The local conservation partnership is hoping to bring $65,000 to $70,000 to the table in local leverage for the project. The development rights and land are being offered at a reduced price by the Hartshorns to the land trust, Walker said earlier, noting that they had reduced the price by 21 percent.

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