Farm purchase delayed again in Ferrisburgh

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard on Tuesday reiterated its need for more information before it can decide whether to support the proposed sale of a 320-acre North Ferrisburgh farm to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Kimball Brook Farm, owned by J.D. and Cheryl DeVos, has most of its frontage on Ashley Road and also fronts Long Point Road. It abuts  the Little Otter Creek Wildlife Management Area to the west and south.

F&W hopes to complete the sale in September, if town officials back it, then add it to the Wildlife Management Area. That would allow public access, including hunting, fishing, snowshoeing, bird watching and other recreational activities, as well as conserve wildlife and protect the Lake Champlain watershed.

F&W officials also plan to lease the 50 acres of most suitable agricultural land to a local farmer and conserve the rest. The Devos family would retain 10 acres, five for themselves and five to subdivide. They told the selectboard they’ve been unable to find a farmer to buy the entire farm, most of which is wetland or simply seasonally wet and not well suited for cropping.

On Tuesday, F&W officials Will Duane and John Austin provided a series of answers to the board to its earlier questions:

  • The sale will be at fair market value, by state law, and also by law not affect the town’s Common Level of Appraisal.
  • The town would receive, at least to start, more money from state Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), about $1,800, than it does now for the land to be sold under Current Use taxation, about $1,200.

In addition, the 10 acres to be subdivided would provide more tax revenue to the town because it would no longer be in the Current Use program, which lowers taxes on agricultural or forest land. That 10 acres includes a home the DeVoses plan to keep.

  • The state doesn’t own the fishing access near Long Point, but leases it on a 10-year basis from the Long Point Association, and has for almost 40 years. A purchase of the farm could provide an alternative fishing access if F&W lost that lease.

Austin, F&W’s Land and Habitat Program Manager, said the money to be used for the purchase is also conservation money, and said the deal would preserve the farm’s best agricultural land.

Selectboard members said the town now receives compensation from the state for lost Current Use revenue that totals $100,000 from 75 properties.

They want to know the bottom line for revenue, comparing the gains from PILOT and higher taxes from the two 5-acre parcels with the loss of that Current Use compensation revenue.

Selectboard member Jim Benoit agreed with Duane from F&W that the DeVoses should have the right to sell to whom they choose, but that “as a taxpayer” he remains concerned about the deal.

Board members were also concerned that the land F&W plans to rent to a local farmer is not contiguous. Some also wondered if a right-of-way could be included in the sale to link the farmland parcels. Austin and Duane said they would consider it, and J.D. DeVos said the lay of the land should not prohibit it.

The issue of whether the board will support the sale will be back on the board’s agenda for a fourth time at its next meeting.

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