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Farmland protection draft open to input from public

Residents of the Town of Charlton enjoy their open spaces and the area's top industry, agriculture, according to the town's 2007 comprehensive plan, and they want to preserve that way of life in the future.

The town's government is working on a plan to keep Charlton's 11,600 acres (55 percent of the town) of agricultural property intact with a farmland protection plan, a draft of which was recently completed. The public will have the chance to comment on the plan Wednesday, April 29, at 7 p.m. at the Charlton Freehold Presbyterian Church.

The town's Agricultural Task Force has been working on the document since early 2008, said Supervisor Alan Grattidge, after the comprehensive plan showed agricultural preservation was a top priority for residents.

The No. 1 goal was to be able to preserve farmland and open spaces, said Grattidge. "You've heard the old saying, 'We want Charlton to stay the way it is.'"

Many of the protection plan's suggestions involve increasing public awareness of the importance of agriculture in Charlton. Among the ideas is a Charlton Agriculture Web site and tying farms into the "Explore Charlton" theme that is part of the Hudson Quadricentennial celebration.

Farmers may also need to be reached out to and informed of various programs they can participate in. Farmers can be eligible for special assessment rates and school tax credits and, in Charlton, are protected by Right-to-Farm laws.

"There was some question whether all the farmers are taking full advantage of the agricultural exemption [in assessments]," said Grattidge. "It's really just an ongoing educational basis for the landowners to know what's out there."

The use of purchase of development rights (PDRs) is also being discussed. That method, which has been used with some success in surrounding towns, exchanges landowner tax breaks and other benefits for a promise to not develop land.

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