Farm News from Owen Part 2

of Red Hook takes action on land issues

The Town of Red Hook has taken a number of steps to negotiate the rights of private landowners with the goals of the community. Like most towns, Red Hook has zoning laws. The zoning laws dictate that only a certain number of houses can be built per acre and that different kinds of development are allowed only in specific areas. In 2002, the zoning laws were revised to require that houses built on important farmland are clustered to reduce their impact. Beyond the zoning laws, the town has attempted to mitigate the development of farmland through the Purchase of Development Rights and the Community Preservation Fund programs.

In 2003, the Town of Red Hook issued a $3.5 million bond to buy farmland development rights. In a Purchase of Development Rights program, the community pays individual landowners to put a conservation easement into the deed of their property. The farm can no longer be developed, and the tax-payers of the town share the price of this common good. It has been shown repeatedly that these programs pay for themselves by preventing an increased tax burden on the town in the future (from the costs of serving and educating new residents).

Recently, voters passed a referendum calling for a Community Preservation Fund. This fund can be used to purchase farmland development rights and achieve other community land goals. The funding for the program comes from a tax on real estate transactions. If a property sells for more than the Dutchess County median (about $350,000), there is a 2% tax on the difference between the county median price and the selling price of the property. People purchasing more expensive properties contribute more to the fund. Those who buy properties under the median, or who do not purchase property, pay nothing.

While both programs help to preserve what is left of the town’s productive land, they are just a start. The money from the Purchase of Development Rights program has protected 376 acres, and the rest is already allocated to specific properties awaiting approval. The Community Preservation Fund will continuously generate money to protect farms, but at a somewhat slow rate. Much farmland is left vulnerable to development pressure.

After a year a half of research and discussion, a task force with representatives from the Town of Red Hook and the Villages of Tivoli and Red Hook reported back to the Town Board on their recommendations for a more comprehensive plan to address Red Hook’s land issues. The plan calls for the creation of a new zoning area called the Agricultural Business District, conservation subdivision within that district, a concentration of development around the town’s village centers, and a Transfer of Development Rights program that would build up the village centers while preserving the town’s farmland. For more information, go to Redhook.org and scroll down to find “Inter-Municipal Task Force Update.” The Task Force’s recommendations could make real comprehensive improvements in Red Hook’s future. They provide ways to balance development with conservation and the needs of farmers with the goals of the community. The decision on whether these recommendations are implemented is ultimately up the Town Board. Citizens concerned with Red Hook’s future would be wise to pressure the Town Board to support the Task Force’s recommendations.

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