Warrant Article 31
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $96,000 (ninety-six thousand dollars) for the purpose of contributing to the purchase of a conservation easement and associated expenses on a portion of the Battles Farm ( Map 6, Lots 96 and 46). Said land is located at the intersection of Center Road and Jewett Road. The purpose of this easement will be to protect valuable agricultural and forest land, wildlife habitat, wetland and flood control areas. This vote authorizes the Town of Bradford to accept a back-up executory interest in said conservation easement.
The Battles Farm, originally settled in the late 1700s, has been continuously worked by the Battles family since 1962. Since Joe Battles died in 2003, many in town have expressed concern that the property would be developed and interest in conserving the farm. Nita Battles has wanted to ensure that the land is not developed, but could not find the right buyer for the farm. Now she and her new husband Ed Erickson have offered to sell the Town a conservation easement on the land so that they can retain the property and continue to operate a viable farm.
What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a legally binding agreement that limits development on a property and remains in effect even as the land is sold, given, traded, or willed. In this case, the current owners would be compensated for the loss of development rights in return for protection of values important to the town. The farm consists of approximately 148 acres. The business on the five acres adjacent to the property to the north is no longer part of Battles Farm and is not part of the easement. The land around the house and farm structures will not be included in the easement. There is a public hearing process before the easement is accepted.
Will the land come off the tax roll?
No. The owners will continue to pay property taxes. Currently, the owners pay more than $10,000 in property taxes under the Current Use program. The easement will not affect their tax assessment.
What is the financial breakdown and why is the appropriation at town meeting required?
Committed funding from the town is needed to both complete the purchase of the easement and to demonstrate town support when competing for grants. The estimated cost of the project is $440,000. This includes the $380,000 appraised easement value plus expenses of $60,000 for survey and associated costs. A combination of $100,000 from the Town’s Conservation Fund, a possible grant from the Federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, a bargain sale reduction in the easement cost from the landowners, and private fundraising from individuals will be used to fund the project in addition to the portion raised at Town Meeting.
What happens if the project isn’t completed?
If fundraising and grant-writing are not successful, the appropriated money is not expended and no easement is put in place. It is possible that a gap in fundraising could be mitigated by reserving the right of the landowners to sell one house lot in the future, still conserving the vast majority of the farm.
Why doesn’t the Board of Selectmen or the Budget Committee support this warrant article?
The Board and Committee feel that the focus of their efforts is to keep the expenses of the town to an absolute minimum. This warrant is presented as an opportunity for the town to take a longer range vision to conserve a property that is important to so many people.
What does $96,000 mean to the tax rate?
As an illustration: if you owned property assessed by the town at $200,000, this appropriation would mean a one-time additional amount of approximately $82, or less than $7 per month for one year.
What does the town stand to gain with this easement?
This is a landmark property that has strong emotional ties for many residents. Both of the town’s Master Plans have consistently rated the preservation of the rural character of the town as a high priority. Traditional agriculture and forestry could continue with management plans in place, benefiting the local economy and increasing the potential for locally grown food. The spectacular views would remain for anyone passing by. The important flood retention qualities of the property would remain intact. Residents could continue to enjoy hiking, fishing, wildlife observation in the forested landscape. The easement will also allow for commercial recreational activities compatible with the agricultural uses such as hay rides, or cross country skiing.
What does the town stand to lose?
We could lose a big piece of our rural agricultural heritage. The flood control ability of the lowlands could be burdened with additional water runoff from roofs, driveways and other infrastructure associated with development, causing additional flooding problems in the already overburdened downtown area. Wildlife habitat of state-listed priority would be severely impacted by development. The pastoral views could be lost. The property could be posted against public access.
Shouldn’t we wait until a better time to conserve this property?
This is the only opportunity we have to conserve one of the last working farms in Bradford. A few years ago, the appraised value would have been higher. The town will soon have other needs, a police station, paid fire and rescue, for instance. These are hard economic times but in spite of this we have the chance to do something large, lasting and positive. We can preserve a prominent piece of our rural heritage, which could prove to be very important for our local economy, local food and peace of mind in years to come.