Friday, 19 October 2018 10:29

The Saratoga Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan

SARATOGA — A year and a half ago the Town of Saratoga received a $25,000 Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) grant award from New York State to study the state of agricultural in the town and establish a plan that advances and protects the agricultural resources. In September, the town formally put out the executive summary of the findings and what they plan to do next. This is the first time a plan has been devised focusing exclusively on agriculture.

“Once the grant was approved we then formed a sub-committee of around 18 people and we started meeting on a monthly basis,” Thomas Wood said. Wood is the Supervisor of the Town of Saratoga and a member of this committee, which he called the agriculture and farmland protection plan committee.

“Agriculture has always been a critical part of the Town of Saratoga and the changes that are happening in the town are reflective of the same changes that are happening in many other communities... We wanted to see what steps, we as a town government, could do to encourage and enhance the current agricultural enterprises and support them in any way that we could,” he added.

The summary outlines benefits of agriculture in the town, one key benefit noted the benefit to the local tax base stating that “studies have repeatedly shown that farms pay more in taxes than they receive in services, keeping property taxes low for other property owners in the town.” Other benefits include the economic, health and tourism impact in the community. The summary also projected the population of Saratoga to grow from 5,674(2010) to 6,130 by 2030. The prediction indicates that the demand for additional housing will likely continue and result in the conversion of agricultural lands to residential uses in the rural district unless there are more effective strategies in place to protect agriculture.

Actions recommended by the committee include a revision to the definition of “farm” and change it to “farm operation” as well as adding other terms in the definitions in the zoning code to be more inclusive of contemporary farm life and agri- business. The town would also like to establish a permanent agricultural advisory committee that will provide the support to the agriculture community.

“Some of the other things would be more time consuming. They will require action by the NYS legislature and will require a state law change. For example, to get an agricultural assessment exemption you have to have a farm of less than seven acres and you have to generate $50,000 a year in annual gross sales of agricultural products, but if your farm was 10 acres or more you would need to generate only $10,000,” Wood said.

Wood expects to see action by the first of the new year. “We’re in the process now. We had a formal public hearing last night (Oct. 3) and for the last couple months at our town board meetings we’ve had discussions about it and reviewed it. At our November meeting we will have another public hearing and then subject to the input that we receive at the November meeting we will either adopt it at the meeting or make additional changes and then maybe adopt it at the December meeting,” Wood said.

“It is a plan, it is not law, but coming from the plan are the suggestions for the steps and the things that the town needs to do that can enhance the agriculture industry,” he added.

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