Ballston Adopts Farmland Protection Plan

At Patrick Ziegler's first meeting as Ballston Town Supervisor, the Town Board adopted the Farmland Protection Plan.

At Patrick Ziegler’s first meeting as Ballston Town Supervisor, the Town Board adopted the Farmland Protection Plan.

BALLSTON – The Ballston Town Board finally adopted the Farmland Protection Plan last night. [Read more…]

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Board Hears Support and Concerns For Farmland Protection Plan

BALLSTON – The Town of Ballston held a public hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 11 to discuss the Farmland Protection Plan. [Read more…]

End to Farmland Protection Committee for Ballston?

Szczepaniak and Goslin question need for FLPP

Ballston Resident Polly Windels

Ballston resident Polly Windels responding to questions by board. Photo by Marci Revette.

BALLSTON — Since its inception in 2009, the Ballston Farmland Preservation & Protection Committee (FLPP) had a clear mission: preserve farmland as set forth in the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. [Read more…]

Plowing Ahead in Town of Ballston

BALLSTON — The Town of Ballston Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee continued to plow along at its May 7 meeting. The committee examined the town’s zoning law and talked about ways to make the wording more “farm friendly.”

The committee recently received a $25,000 grant from the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets and hired Elan Planning to facilitate the development and implementation of their comprehensive plan.

“We need to examine the code to look for ways to strengthen the protection of the farming community,” said committee chairperson Joan Pott. “The outcome of farmland protection will determine the future in the atmosphere and character of this town. It’s too important of an issue to be political.”

Pott said the committee’s goal is to follow not only the comprehensive plan, but the heart of the law as well.

“The residents of this town have faithfully filled out multiple surveys and the results were identical,” Pott said. “All we are trying to do is fulfill the directive of the town residents’ answers in their surveys.”

There are four goals the committee hopes to accomplish: to protect agriculture resources in Ballston, enhance economic possibilities, increase visibility and public recognition and gain town-wide recognition and support of agriculture resources.

Lisa Nagle from Elan recently examined the zoning code and at the meeting discussed “the good and the areas that need tweaking.”

Although in its early stages, Nagle said the suggested rewording of the zoning law the committee comes up with will be added as an addendum to the committee’s comprehensive plan.

The goal of the committee is to tweak the wording without changing the current zoning law, Pott said.

“We’re not changing zoning, we’re not changing the district,” she said. “All we are doing is literal changes.”

According to Nagle, the most obvious change needing to be made is under Article 1-General Provisions.

“There is no mention of agriculture or farming,” she said. “Agriculture should be added to the list.”

The second area of change the committee would like to see is in the definition, which currently reads “customary agriculture uses,” which the committee believes leaves some room for interpretation.

“This could be good but it may be better to have an all-encompassing definition that considers many aspects of farming and agriculture,” Nagle said.

Committee members suggested adding a definition of what an agriculture district is and allowing for uses such as agri-tourism, greenhouses, equine riding and training facilities, roadside stands, livestock and “zoning harmony.”

This definition is intended to ensure conflicting uses are not allowed.

Pott said that is one of the committee’s goals.

“Zoning harmony is what we are attempting,” she said. “Harmony and compatibility phrases are huge in the zoning law.”

The definitions need to also include the wording “included but not limited to,” Nagle said

“You can’t possibly perceive every kind of use related to agriculture,” she said.

Another point of concern for the committee is the establishment of districts. Nagle said there is no agriculture zoning district in town.

“There is a ‘rural’ zoning district, but it does not appear to put agriculture as a desired use,” she said. “In fact, it reads as if it is expected that agriculture is no longer a viable use in the town given housing pressures and ‘recent economic trends.'”

Finally, the committee examined the purpose and intent of the rural district regulations. Nagle said the regulations can be amended to be more friendly to agriculture.

“The town needs to recognize that agriculture is a commercial activity,” she said. “Agriculture is not being valued as an economic engine in town.”

Nagle suggested using rural design guidelines, which are being used in other towns.

“This helps site homes, or different uses near each other,” she said. “Design guidelines could be a recommendation outside of zoning. It’s sort of an easier pill to swallow because it’s not law.”

In spite of the changes in wording the committee feels need to be made, Nagle concluded the zoning law was not all bad.

“It’s good for agriculture,” she said. “We’re just looking for ways to strengthen the wording. What holds teeth in court is a town’s zoning law.”

The committee will meet one more time on May 21 before disbanding for the summer growing season.

To contact the reporter on this story email marci@theballstonjournal.com

To contact the editor on this story email kevin@theballstonjournal.com

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Milton Farmland Protection

Although the Milton Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee was formed a little over a year ago, the panel has just recently taken significant steps to advance a plan. Town board member Frank Blaisdell, who is on the committee, updated the full town board at the April 3 meeting on the progress the committee has made.

According to Blaisdell’s report, agriculture represents a significant contribution to the economy both in Milton and in Saratoga County as a whole. According to data provided in the report, Saratoga County farms provided 1,382 full and part time jobs to 571 owners and operators. The farms sold approximately $39 million in agricultural products and spent $32 million at local businesses.

Additionally, farmers owned $214 million in lands and buildings and an additional $41 million in machinery and equipment.

The Ballston Journal/NEWS“This combined $250 million in assets is an indication of the commitment of county farmers to their business and local economy,” Blaisdell said.

Blaisdell said there are currently 70 agriculture parcels in the town of Milton, which occupy in excess of 6,000 acres, or about 28 percent of the town’s acreage.

According to Blaisdell, by developing a farmland protection and preservation plan the town would be joining other Saratoga County towns such as Charlton, Stillwater and Moreau, who already have plans in place.

The Town of Ballston is currently working on their plan, and Saratoga Springs and Northumberland have a combined agriculture and recreation plan.

“Our farm protection plan will be consistent with the county’s green infrastructure plan,” Blaisdell said.

Blaisdell’s report listed the advantages of instituting a farm protection plan. The benefits include the support and encouragement of agriculture, keeping open space, preserving view sheds and wildlife habitats, protecting water resources, providing locally grown food and helping to keep the tax base low.

“It costs a lot less in government services and educational resources to maintain 40 cows on a 50-acre plot than it would to provide services for five families with children on the same piece of land,” Blaisdell said. “You don’t have to send cows to school.”

The committee has already selected Behan Communications, which has several offices in the Capital Region, to help with the development of the plan, Blaisdell said.

“We feel that Behan will do the best job for us based on their interest in the project, their familiarity with the town, and their commitment to spend the time needed,” he said.

Blaisdell said the committee will also apply for a $25,000 grant from New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. The town will match over 25 percent of the grant, or $8,500, with up to 80 percent of that contributed in in-kind services such as administrative work, he said.

Blaisdell said that the committee is also working with Maria Trabka of Saratoga PLAN and Jamie O’Neill from the Saratoga County Planning Board.

Additional steps include land use surveys, public workshops, public hearings, reviews and approval from the town board, as well as approval from the Saratoga County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board and Agriculture and Markets.

“Hopefully we will fit comfortably into our town comprehensive plan,” Blaisdell said.

Supervisor Dan Lewza said the Town of Milton is dedicated to pursuing the farmland protection plan.

“I think it’s a very important aspect of the town residents to ensure that we give quality of life besides the parks and businesses,” he said. “This is a unique chance to go to other parts of town with open space, so we’re not just developing the town center. We can have the best of both worlds, so we can offer the whole package.”

Lewza is confident that the committee will develop the best plan for the town. “In order to provide a good town, you have to provide everything,” he said. “We’re developing a plan to ensure the farm land is protected.”

To contact the reporter on this story email marci@theballstonjournal.com

To contact the editor on this story email kevin@theballstonjournal.com

Ballston FPPC Developing Strategies

The Town of Ballston’s Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee has been working hard on developing a comprehensive plan, and at the March 26 meeting they began to develop strategies to move the process forward.

The committee already had something to work with following a survey of area farmers conducted by Elan Planning and Design, the company the committee hired to help develop and facilitate their plan. The survey asked local farmers what they would like to see in the plan.

At the Tuesday meeting, Lisa Nagle and Susan Caruvana of Elan presented the strategies they developed based on the survey and offered the committee a chance to add more.

Committee chairwoman Joan Pott and Lisa Nagle and Susan Caruvana of Elan discuss strategies. Photo by Marci Revette

Committee chairwoman Joan Pott and Lisa Nagle and Susan Caruvana of Elan discuss strategies. Photo by Marci Revette

The strategies were divided into three categories: Stewardship, Marketing and Economic Development, and Resource Management and Support.

The Stewardship strategy identifies measures to protect and enhance the agriculture community’s resources. It outlines the responsibilities of individuals and organizations who will contribute to the long-term enhancement, conservation and promotion of the agriculture district in Ballston.

Some of the ideas included improving community relations, increasing funding for farmland protection, improving and expanding agricultural education in the schools and community, helping smaller and new agriculture producers grow, and exploring various zoning techniques to protect farmland.

The committee developed three strategies during the brainstorming session to utilize available state programs: the use of incentive zoning, transfer development rights, and the use of agriculture easements.

Agriculture easements on a farmer’s property would allow for public access to part of the land while keeping ownership in the producer’s hands.

The Marketing and Economic Development strategy identifies ways to make visitors and landowners alike aware of the Agriculture District’s resources.

Among the ideas for implementation were working with Saratoga County and New York State to market agriculture products, promoting creative tourism opportunities through agriculture, stimulating agricultural entrepreneurship with young farmers, incorporating agriculture in the development of the Consolidated Funding Applications through NYS Agriculture and Markets, and working with Saratoga County to develop procurement policies that would emphasize locally-produced foods.

The committee also liked the idea of finding ways to bring local foods into the school lunch programs, as well as retirement living facilities.

Also discussed was partnering with area businesses to bring local products to the workplace, and starting a program with local restaurants where local products would be featured on the menus.

Finally, the committee talked about developing a food hub connection to enable local farmers to have their products brought to areas such as New York City to be featured in Farmers Markets. The group especially liked this idea because they felt city dwellers do not have adequate access to farm-fresh fruits and vegetables.

The third strategy is Resource Management and Support, which would identify a management entity to direct the day-to-day coordination and advocacy of the Farmland Protection and Preservation Plan. The management entity would further identify people and organizations to participate in implementing the strategies, and also people who are committed to the plan.

Several key ideas are establishing an Agriculture and Farm Commission, promoting greater farmer representation in local problem solving and planning, developing a comprehensive list of farms in the town, and requiring farmer representation on the town board, planning board and zoning board of appeals.

Currently there are no farmers on the town board and only one on the planning board. There is no farming representative on the ZBA.

Deputy Supervisor Stephen Merchant of Merchant’s Mini Horse Farm is on the farmland protection committee.

“It’s really important to have farming representation on the boards,” he said. “Agriculture is the main source of revenue for the Town of Ballston.”

The protection of prime farmland within the Agriculture District is also a committee priority. The challenge is to balance conflicting interests when locating transportation, utility facilities, and even parks.

Currently, the town is moving forward with plans to develop Anchor Diamond Park on land the committee considers “prime farmland.”

Recently, Rob Holzman of Elan estimated there are more than 90 acres of high-quality agriculture soil which would be lost if the park is developed. “This strategy that we are developing right now is going to be so vitally important to educate the general public,” he said at the time. “I’m one of those people who was not paying attention to what was going in and what was there.”

“Most people don’t even realize just how good the soil is out there,” Holzman said. “That’s a very good example of how the farmland in the Town of Ballston is disappearing.”

The committee will meet again on April 16. Elan hopes to have a plan in place by June.

To contact the reporter on this story email marci@theballstonjournal.com

To contact the editor on this story email kevin@theballstonjournal.com

Survey Says: Ballston Farms Quizzed

What constitutes a farm in the Town of Ballston? That is one of many questions the Ballston Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee hopes to answer as they move forward with their quest to become a presence in town government.

At the March 5 meeting, the committee heard the results of a survey conducted by Elan Planning and Design.

The survey, which had an estimated cost of $500, was sent out to approximately 150 properties considered as agriculture. There were only 39 responses, but the committee felt the responses indicated an accurate representation of the voices of the Ballston farming community.

“It shocked me that only 39 came back,” said committee chairperson Joan Pott.

The primary focus of the survey is to identify the farms in the Town of Ballston and determine their needs.

Surprisingly, one of the first needs was identifying what actually constitutes a farm.

The Ballston Journal, Town of Ballston, Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee, Lisa Nagle, Rob Holzman, Elan Planning and Design, NYS Agriculture and Markets Law

Lisa Nagle and Rob Holzman listen intently to questions from Ballston Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee at the March 5 meeting. Photo by Marci Revette

Kathy Knight of Knight Orchards was in attendance because of a recent attempt to reclassify her apple orchard as a non-farm. The effort grew out of Knight Orchards’ use of a wind machine to protect blossoms from being destroyed by frost. The noise generated by the machinery became a subject of complaint by some neighbors.

Under both town zoning law and the New York State Agriculture and Markets definition, an apple orchard is in fact defined as a farm. And Section 308 of the state’s Agriculture and Markets Law guarantees farms the right to use equipment in “sound agricultural practice” and exempts such use from being considered a “nuisance.”

The dispute is just one example of the struggles Ballston farmers say they face, and one of the reasons for the survey.

Rob Holzman of Elan felt the timeliness of the survey was very important.

“There are a lot of things that are going on today that are really affecting some of these prime farmlands,” he said.

Another issue is farmland versus open space. The town has been attempting to develop Anchor Diamond Park on Middle Line Road, which is in the agricultural district of the town.

Holzman estimates there are more than 90 acres of high-quality agriculture soil which would be lost if the park is developed. “This strategy that we are developing right now is going to be so vitally important to educate the general public,” he said. “I’m one of those people who wasn’t paying attention to what was going in and what was there.”

Most people don’t even realize just how good the soil is out there, Holzman said. “That’s a very good example of how the farmland in the Town of Ballston is disappearing,” he said.

Lisa Nagle of Elan agreed education is important. The changing fabric of the farming community was one of the concerns on the survey, she said.

“Part of the survey is the education component,” Nagle said. “It’s education and raising awareness of the importance of farmland.”

Dick Voehringer was especially concerned over the survey results for questions 15b and 15d on the survey, which asked how concerned the respondent was over the loss of prime farmland and the pressure to develop existing farmland.

“That is the real crux of the problem in the farming community in Ballston,” he said.

Committee member Bob Postolka agreed with him, but also said section 25-AA of the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law provides some protection for farmers if it is enforced.

“According to that section, a municipality has to file notice of intent to take private farmland and use it for municipal use, actually any purpose other than agriculture production,” he said. “We need to hold (the municipalities’) feet to the fire to comply with these laws.”

Another concern of the committee is the lack of any farming representation on the Ballston Town Board, as well as any professional planner for the town.

“It surprises me that there is not a professional planner on the staff,” Holzman said. He suggested the committee should strive to become a commission which would have more power to enforce section 25-AA of the agriculture law.

Nagle agreed. “The commission would have a little more teeth,” she said. “We’re trying to make a committee with as much impact as possible.”

Pott emphasized what the committee hopes to accomplish. “We hope to address education of our representatives as well as our residents,” she said. “One of the responsibilities the committee takes seriously is to educate our government representatives as well as our residents about all of the pressures working against the agriculture.”

Willow Marsh Farm owner Chuck Curtiss summed up the feelings of the farming community on question 20 of the survey, concerning participation in farmer’s market, as well as feelings in general about being a farmer in Ballston.

“It’s not for everybody,” he said in reference to farmer’s market. “Between running a farm and participating, that’s what kills it.”

Curtiss said the ultimate goal of the committee should be to save not just the farmland, but the farmers. “The best way to preserve farmland is to keep farmers on the farm,” he said.

Elan hopes to have a plan in place by June and also presented a table of contents for that plan at the meeting.

The next meeting of the Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee will be on Tuesday, March 26 at 6 p.m.

To contact the reporter on this story email marci@theballstonjournal.com

To contact the editor on this story email kevin@theballstonjournal.com

Ballston Plants Seed to Protect Farms

The Town of Ballston Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee met on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 19 in an attempt to begin developing better ways for the town and its resident farmers to protect the area’s numerous agricultural properties.

The committee met with Rob Holzman and Sue Caruvana of Elan Planning and Design to evaluate the agricultural properties in Ballston and surrounding areas, and to discuss steps they could set in motion to prevent unwanted development and the destruction of local farms.

Though nothing official came out of the meeting, the committee did begin brainstorming methods they could use. One of the ideas they tossed around was to have developers go through the committee and the board when looking to purchase land to build on.

Their thinking is the town could then present the developers with a parcel of land where both parties could be happy with development taking place.

The Ballston Journal, Town of Ballston, Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee, Joan Pott

The Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee meets with members of Elan Planning and Design. Photo by James Twigg.

“All of this building is expensive,” committee chairperson Joan Pott said. “If the builders want to build then the appropriate location will be designated east of Route 50 for building. We say ‘fine, you all can come to this lot.’ They’ll pay $6,000 an acre for the development rights or whatever the going price is at the time and we will pick a farm that’s at risk.”

The committee took only some initial steps forward and still have a long way to go before anything can be made official. When the meeting came to a close, each member went home with a set of maps and charts providing them with the necessary information to begin formulating a more concrete plan. The committee intends to have a more in-depth discussion next time they meet.

“[At the next meeting we will] identify the existing agricultural policies that have been put in place,” Caruvana said. “What’s in the park plan? What’s in the zoning ordinance? What’s already there to protect you? Then were going to see what’s the gap. What’s missing? That’s where we’re going to go.”

The measures the committee is in the process of drawing up are partly in response to the Cappiello Farms situation of last October. In that case, the Cappiello family had offered to sell its property to the Town of Ballston for $600,000, around half of the land’s market value. Originally, the plan was to lease a section of the property for farming and leave the rest undeveloped open land.

But before the town board and the Cappiello family could finalize an agreement the land was sold to a private buyer. Community reaction was strong, with some citizens fearing the potential loss of future opportunities on other parcels of land. Many, including several members of the Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee, worried a lack of attention to the issue could lead to the eventual loss of a farming community long emblematic of the town of Ballston.

“I would like to see our board’s focus on farmland preservation and focusing on what’s best for the town and forgetting the politics,” Pott said.

Steps have already been taken by town officials in an attempt to prevent similar situations from taking place in the future. The Ballston Town Board recently passed a resolution establishing a Capital Reserve Fund for the preservation of farmland and open space.

“It is the intent of this board to accumulate such funds on a continuing basis so that funds are available when opportunities arise and it is the intent of this board to accept private contributions to such fund,” the resolution reads.

The Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee will next meet on Tuesday, March 5 at 7:30 p.m.

To contact the reporter on this story email news@theballstonjournal.com

To contact the editor on this story email kevin@theballstonjournal.com 

Saving Farmland One Acre At a Time

Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee doing what they can to ‘preserve history’

BY MARCI REVETTE
marci@theballstonjournal.com

Joan Pott, the head of the Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee in Ballston, has a firm view of the committee’s purpose. “When we preserve farms, we’re preserving history,” she said. “Without preservation, no farms means no food.”

The mission of the committee is simple: to educate the public on the impact of agriculture on the economy in New York state.

Cappiello Farm. Photo by Marci Revette.

“Every time we lose a farm, we lose somewhere in the vicinity of a million dollars in revenue in the state,” Pott said. “That is the main reason why maintaining farming and land in farming is so important.”

One of the other concerns in educating the public is the idea that farmland is open space, but open space is not productive farmland.

“There is tension between the idea of open space and farmland protection,” she said. “With New York State being in the financial crisis it supposedly is in, dollars are short. When we make application of those dollars, they should be prioritized first to farmland that is productive for food.”

“Open space is important, but land that produces food needs to be a priority,” Pott concluded.

Pott also pointed out the importance of farmers having their voice heard in town government. “Originally town law called for a farmer on each board and somehow we’ve gotten away from that,” she said. “But it’s an important issue in planning.”

Currently, Councilman Jeremy Knight is the only farmer on any of the town boards and is the liaison between the committee and the full Town Board. “It is a great effort on the part of the committee,” he said. “They are working extremely hard to balance farmland protection and community interests.”

One of the main goals of the committee is to reclaim fallow land and convert it into productive farmland once again.

Last year the committee obtained a list from the town tax assessor of agriculture-exempt properties so they could identify landowners who might be interested in leasing their land and returning it to production.

“This year, we’ve identified over 250 acres and returned them to production,” Pott said. “If the land is productive, there is less incentive to the landowner to sell it for development.”

Bob Postolka is one farmer who has taken advantage of fallow land reclamation. He talks to land owners and works out a private lease with them. The arrangement is beneficial to both parties, he said.

“It is an effort to preserve what existing farmland there is and to add more to it,” Postolka said.

The committee, which was formed in Oct. 2010, is also currently working on a project proposal to have the Town of Ballston purchase 262 acres of land on the Cappiello Farm on Route 50 for $600,000. The land would be used primarily for farming through a farmland lease agreement, but future recreational use would be possible.

The committee feels the purchase is necessary to the town because the loss of the Cappiello Farm to development would mean the loss of history. “These are the things we lose, these pieces of history,” Pott said. “These are the things we lose when we develop farms.”

Don Rhodes, the engineer for the Cappiello Farm project, agrees with Pott. Although not an official member of the committee, he got involved in the project because in his words, he’s “unfortunately a sucker for punishment,” he said jokingly.

Rhodes was the Comprehensive Plan Chairman for the Town of Ballston when the property was originally being developed several years ago. “I listened to the people say we really need to do something on this property,” he said. “The Committee had an idea and I helped them bring it together and present it to the town.”

“Public spaces should be enjoyed by the public and benefit all,” Rhodes concluded. “Farmland preservation benefits all.”

Pott brought up one final point. “There is an economic aspect to agriculture,” she said. “The economic benefit to a town from a farm is so far-reaching in terms of the dollars put back into the community, in terms of diesel purchase, in terms of local suppliers that are used, the maintenance of vehicles. Agriculture is a far-reaching industry.”