Tuesday, June 18, 2013
CHINA -- The leaders assembled Thursday in the Town Office to plan an effort to preserve the former French farm on Vassalboro Road as agricultural land.
FOR SALE: The French Farm in China is being considered for conservation.
Staff photo by Andy Molloy
Now, they need more followers.
The idea is to help preserve China's rural character -- a goal frequently mentioned during comprehensive planning discussions -- and slow the rate of property tax increases.
Keeping a tract such as the French property in agricultural use is less of a drain on town resources than letting a developer build houses whose occupants use schools and other town facilities, Maine Farmland Trust Executive Director John Piotti said Thursday.
The proposal for the French farm -- developed by Judd Thompson, outgoing chairman of the Sebasticook Regional Land Trust; and Piotti -- involves Maine Farmland Trust buying the property, establishing an easement limiting its use to farming, and reselling the land to an aspiring farmer. The Sebasticook Regional Land Trust would be the easement holder.
Stacy Gambrel, Maine Farmland Trust's China project manager, listed three reasons the French farm is especially qualified for preservation:
* The soils are excellent for agriculture, both in the areas previously used for pasture or cropland and in the wooded areas.
* The China area is under heavy development pressure, Gambrel said, and flat acreage is easy to build houses on.
* The farm has until recently been commercially viable and still has the store where the Frenches sold vegetables and a barn in fairly good condition.
Maine Farmland Trust has an option to buy the property, good through December.
The next steps, Piotti said, are to garner community support to help raise money to cover the gap between the purchase price and the price for which the trust will sell the property, and then to find a farm family willing and able to buy it.
The same approach is being used in Readfield, where the Maine Farmland Trust purchased an 84-acre apple orchard along Route 17 below its appraised value to keep it away from developers. It is now seeking an agriculturally minded buyer.
Piotti and Thompson decided the show of support Thursday evening justified going ahead with an appraisal. The appraisal will cost several thousand dollars and indicate approximately how much the development rights are worth.
Development rights will be extinguished by the easement terms, reducing the value of the property. The new owner would be expected to pay the lower price.
The figures being used for the preliminary budget are:
* a current market value of $425,000;
* a value as protected farmland of $300,000 to $325,000.
Additional costs for appraising, legal and banking services are estimated at around $75,000, for a total investment of close to $500,000.
The figures are subject to change, Piotti emphasized.
Piotti expects to get a federal grant of almost $75,000. He talked of an application for assistance from the Land for Maine's Future program, as well. It is likely that more than $100,000 would still need to be raised from other sources, he said.
Piotti said that, because easements last forever, the Trust does not make them too strict or specific. For example, he said, there would probably not be a requirement for organic farming, because in another century the concept might be outdated.
About a dozen people came to Thursday's presentation, including neighboring landowners, two members of China committees dealing with open space issues and farmers and farm supporters. No one volunteered to lead the local fundraising committee.