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Ferrisburgh backs farm sale to Fish & Wildlife

FERRISBURGH — Five months and several adjustments to the deal later, on Tuesday the Ferrisburgh selectboard gave its blessing to the sale of 253 acres of a North Ferrisburgh farm owned by Cheryl and J.D. DeVos to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

The original deal proposed in March called for the sale of all of the DeVos’s 330-acre Kimball Brook Farm except for 10 acres the family would retain. Fish & Wildlife officials pledged to lease 40 or more acres to a farmer, while attaching the rest to the department’s adjacent Little Otter Creek Wildlife Management Area.

But selectboard members said they were concerned about the potential loss of property tax revenue, and also expressed concerns about the eventual loss of prime agricultural land and raised philosophical objections to government control of farmland.

Another issue arose during talks — that the farm buildings in the deal were separated from the best farmland, which lies at the property’s north end along Stage Road. A barn and sheds are closer to Ashley Road, which runs south from Stage Road.

After several discussions at a series of board meetings among department officials, board members and the landowners — plus a site visit — the board on Tuesday signed off on a deal (which the DeVoses and the department still have to make final), that calls for:

  • The landowners to retain 67 acres of prime farmland at the northern end, with the farm buildings added and the understanding it will be sold or leased to a farmer. They will also still retain the 10 acres, located along Ashley Road and which they plan to subdivide into two parcels.
  • Fish & Wildlife to receive 253 acres adjacent to its existing Wildlife Management Unit. Twenty-five of those acres along Ashley Road will be leased as farmland. Hiking, fishing, at least some hunting, and other forms of non-motorized recreation will be allowed on the land. Many of those acres are wetlands and are less suitable in general for agriculture.
  • Fish & Wildlife will retain a right-of-way behind the Devoses’ retained 10 acres across the 67-acre parcel. It will run along an existing farm road and end at the 253-acre tract at a parking lot big enough for no more than a half-dozen vehicles, according to Fish & Wildlife Land Acquisition Coordinator Will Duane.

Duane said the Vermont Land Trust had signed off on the reconfigured agreement and called it a “good compromise.”

“I think we’ve been able to satisfy everyone’s concerns,” he said.

Duane added the town will make out well financially. The 67-acre parcel’s status should remain essentially unchanged, he said, with the assumption it would remain in current use, while Fish & Wildlife will pay $1,400 a year in Payments in Lieu of Taxes (to start) to the town for the undeveloped larger parcel.

At earlier meetings, officials noted the two 5-acre parcels would generate residential taxes in excess of current tax revenue.

Duane also told the board the deal would preserve the public’s ability to reach the Little Otter Creek Fishing Access in a worst-case scenario.

The public can now get to the fishing access across land on which Fish & Wildlife has a long-term lease with the Long Point Association. Duane said the department has no reason to believe that lease would not be renewed, but if at some point in the future it isn’t, the 253-acre parcel could provide access.

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