Revised Goal 3 – Agriculture & Environmental Protection

Town of Washington, New York Comprehensive Plan Goals, Policies and Recommendations

DRAFT – Goal 3: Agriculture & Environmental Protection – 7-25-11 Committee Meeting 1

GOAL 3: Protect land, water, and the natural environment. 1.

A. Objectives

Conserve rural lands: farms and agricultural soils, forests, hillsides and open space. 2.

Protect groundwater, aquifers, wetlands, floodplains and waterways. 3.

Protect natural habitats, biodiversity, and sensitive environmental areas. B. Background, Subcommittee Observations and Comments

1.

Background Preservation of Agriculture was a central goal in the Town’s last Comprehensive Plan. Currently there are 114 parcels of agricultural land comprising 12,990 acres or 36.7% of total acres in the Town of Washington (second highest behind residential uses in the land use categories). According to the assessor’s database, 37.4% of agricultural land is in cattle farms followed by horse farms (17.8%) and field crops (12.6%). No agricultural acreage was lost between 1986 and 2008. Prime agricultural soils comprise approximately 20% of the Town and represent an irreplaceable resource.

In charging the Comprehensive Plan Update Committee, the Town Board observed that between adoption of the 1987 Master Plan and the present, the primary issue has shifted from protection of agriculture to protection of surface and groundwater quality and quantity, and that the development of an overall water quality protection strategy is central to the comprehensive planning effort.

2.

Sub-Committee Conclusions Although the number of acres of farmland has remained stable, the nature of farming has changed from larger production farms to smaller specialty and hobby farms. The land use subcommittee observed that the increasing level of taxation, inheritance tax rates, and personal tax and succession situations are driving larger farmers to consider selling or subdividing land. As many subcommittees observed, nearly half of the Town’s land is owned by fewer than 50 landowners. The actions of a few owners could put the Town’s agricultural base and rural character at risk. The Economy Subcommittee observed that since the last master plan, farm services/services to farmers (such as machinery equipment repairs and markets to sell products) has declined in the Town of Washington, which has hastened the

Town of Washington, New York Comprehensive Plan Goals, Policies and Recommendations DRAFT – Goal 3: Agriculture & Environmental Protection – 7-25-11 Committee Meeting

2 departure of dairy farms in the area. They concluded that the Town should plan to remain largely a rural, open area that retains its agricultural economic base and serves as an aesthetic and recreational amenity to the Village and the County as a whole.

The Environmental Resources Committee identified prime agricultural soils, open space protection and biodiversity as important environmental resources in Washington. Almost all of the water used in the Town is groundwater and its protection is critical to land use stability. There are several potential threats to groundwater in the Town including the proposed Bennett College housing development and the Transfer Station (formerly a dump).

The subcommittee also felt strongly that the Town should protect the watershed of the Village’s water supply, in addition to the Town’s own watershed). The Community Services subcommittee observed that a supplemental pumping station should be considered.

3.

Survey Input a. Survey respondents favor agriculture actions:

95% preserving agricultural character b. Survey respondents favor land water and habitat actions:

98% protecting water supply and aquifers Town of Washington, New York Comprehensive Plan

Goals, Policies and Recommendations DRAFT – Goal 3: Agriculture & Environmental Protection – 7-25-11 Committee Meeting

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 64% supporting wind energy

70% purchasing open space C. Policies and Recommendations

1. Objective: Conserve rural lands: farms and agricultural soils, forests, hillsides and open space.

i. Identify, manage and protect sensitive environmental areas on an ongoing basis to protect natural resources.

ii. Permit traditional rural land use patterns and development densities that contribute to scenic beauty and natural diversity of the Town while avoiding the disruption of scenic vistas, viewsheds and corridors, ridgelines, natural areas, steep slopes, and historic resources. Continually review zoning and land management tools to help achieve this development pattern.

iii. Actively promote the establishment of conservation easements and the use of conservation subdivisions, clustering and buffering in scenic and natural areas including steep slopes and ridgelines. Consider offering a density bonus to the clustering provision.

iv. Support the use of sustainable timbering best practices to prevent fragmentation of forest lands.

v. Protect areas sensitive to erosion and sedimentation. Direct development away from steep slopes to prevent adverse impacts. Require appropriate control measures for areas where development will disturb soils.

vi. Preserve the maximum amount of agricultural land in large blocks for farm use. Direct growth and municipal capital and infrastructure improvements to suitable non-agricultural areas or areas of marginal agricultural soils and discourage development of productive agricultural areas and prime agricultural soils.

vii. Support a variety of farm types and farm businesses such as niche farming, micro-farming, cooperatives and value-added agricultural

Town of Washington, New York Comprehensive Plan

Goals, Policies and Recommendations DRAFT – Goal 3: Agriculture & Environmental Protection – 7-25-11 Committee Meeting

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facilities. Support the use of farm-scale alternate energy (such as a wind turbine).

viii. Support other working uses that complement the rural landscape, such as honey production and maple sugaring, for example, which allow landowners to generate income.

ix. Cooperate with organizations that preserve open space and support agriculture such as the Dutchess Land Conservancy, the American Farmland Trust, the Audubon Society, hunt clubs, Rockefeller, Cary/IES, and private schools.

x. Encourage farmers, non-farmers owning farmland, and the public to participate in local land use decisions affecting agriculture.

xi. Use input from the Farmland Protection Committee to advise the various boards and officers of the Town on matters pertaining to the preservation, promotion, and ongoing operation of agricultural activity in the Town of Washington.

xii. Review policies and make amendments where necessary to ensure compliance with New York State Agriculture and Market law.

b. Recommendations

i. Review and expand allowed uses for farm businesses. Allow farmers to extract a controlled amount of non-renewable resources like sand, topsoil and gravel as an additional revenue stream.

ii. Support efforts to by farmers to add value to local products through storing, processing, and packaging products more efficiently, including by creating or locating new agriculture support businesses.

iii. Review and revise, as necessary, zoning, subdivision, the existing Agricultural Protection Overlay District and clustering provisions and other land use tools to direct development away from prime agricultural soils.

Town of Washington, New York Comprehensive Plan

Goals, Policies and Recommendations DRAFT – Goal 3: Agriculture & Environmental Protection – 7-25-11 Committee Meeting

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iv. Support marketing and distribution for local farm products in the region and nearby urban areas through buy-local initiatives. Provide support to local farmers markets and farm stands providing locally grown produce, meats, and other products to residents and visitors.

v. Consider development of a voluntary Purchase of Agricultural Easement Program to acquire future development rights.

vi. Consider adoption of a Community Preservation Act. The act would provide for a real estate transfer fee of up to two percent of the sale price of real property to fund the establishment and preservation of parks, nature preserves, recreational areas, open spaces, agricultural areas, wetlands and marshes, watershed areas, waterbodies, forest lands, historic places and wildlife habitat. The first task in this process is production and adoption of a Community Preservation Plan.

vii. Evaluate the cost/benefit of providing additional tax incentives for working farmers and owners of conserved agricultural land. Consider use of a term easement abatement approach which provides tax abatement in exchange for protection of the agricultural, open space, or historical values of land or buildings. The easement is created for a specific period of time (for example 5 to 20 years) and the landowner’s taxes are abated (for example by 30%, 50% or 80% for differing terms) for this period in compensation for the term conservation easement.

viii. Develop a Steep Slopes Protection Plan/Overlay to control development, minimize erosion and preserve the natural scenic beauty of prominent hillsides, viewsheds and ridgelines.

2. Objective: Protect groundwater, aquifers, wetlands, floodplains and waterways.

i. Monitor the quality and quantity of Town groundwater supplies in order to take remedial action when necessary.

ii. Minimize disturbance to wetlands, waterbodies, watercourses to protect groundwater quality and quantity.

Town of Washington, New York Comprehensive Plan

Goals, Policies and Recommendations DRAFT – Goal 3: Agriculture & Environmental Protection – 7-25-11 Committee Meeting

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iii. Promote compatible land uses over existing aquifer and recharge areas to minimize runoff and potential sources of contamination.

iv. Restore and maintain broad buffer zones of natural vegetation along streams, shores, wetlands, and around the perimeter of other sensitive habitats.

v. Manage storm water runoff by preventing erosion, using proper landscaping and site management (including use of native plants).

vi. Limit or prohibit subsurface sewage disposal systems adjacent to wetlands and watercourses.

vii. Minimize the area of impervious surfaces (roads, parking lots, sidewalks, driveways, roof surfaces) and maximize onsite runoff retention and infiltration to help protect groundwater recharge and surface water quality and flows.

viii. Do not allow changes that impede the movement floodwaters. Coordinate with adjacent communities to assure that floodplain management practices do not shift the flood hazard to adjacent communities.

ix. Direct growth and development to areas where the threat of flood damage to property of Town residents is limited. Do not allow construction of valuable or vulnerable structures in the floodplain.

c. Recommendations

i. Develop a system to monitor ground water quantity and quality.

ii. Prepare a build out analysis to establish appropriate development densities based upon availability of water and carrying capacity of infrastructure.

iii. Develop appropriate siting criteria and performance standards to promote sound development over aquifers and recharge areas.

iv. Evaluate the need to develop a backup or emergency pumping station.

Town of Washington, New York Comprehensive Plan

Goals, Policies and Recommendations DRAFT – Goal 3: Agriculture & Environmental Protection – 7-25-11 Committee Meeting

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v. Establish a standard for septic treatment maintenance for new and existing buildings based upon the density of population in a given area.

vi. Develop and adopt a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan and Illicit Discharge Prevention Plan.

vii. Adopt and enforce floodplain management measures within existing zoning, subdivision or building ordinances. Encourage the development of conservation easements along the remaining privately held and unprotected floodplains in the Town.

viii. Manage stormwater by requiring the installation and maintenance of stormwater retention and detention basins in proposed development sites and adjacent to floodplains.

3. Objective: Protect natural habitats, biodiversity, and sensitive environmental areas.

b. Policies

i. Protect regionally rare habitats including those listed by Hudsonia including circumneutral bog lakes, fens and calcareous meadows, kettle shrub pools (used by threatened Blanding’s turtle, and crest, ledge and talus turtle).

ii. Direct development to protect and buffer large and high quality areas of contiguous forest, areas of contiguous meadow, and high quality habitat complexes.

iii. Promote redevelopment of previously altered sites, “infill” development, and reuse of existing structures wherever possible.

iv. Protect or restore corridors of undeveloped land between habitat patches, fauna migration corridors, and habitats associated with resources of special economic, public health, or aesthetic importance to the Town.

v. Restore degraded habitats wherever possible, but do not use restoration projects as a license to destroy high-quality habitats.

Town of Washington, New York Comprehensive Plan

Goals, Policies and Recommendations DRAFT – Goal 3: Agriculture & Environmental Protection – 7-25-11 Committee Meeting

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vi. Continually educate the public about habitat and biodiversity in partnership with local environmental organizations.

vii. Work closely with the Cary Institute and Hudsonia to better use scientific information to assess and minimize environmental impacts.

viii. Coordinate Town actions that effect the environment with those of nearby municipalities.

c. Recommendations

i. Consider formal New York State designation of Critical Environmental Areas. Use the Townwide Habitat Map prepared by Hudsonia which provides a landscape perspective to prioritize areas for protection and identify sites for new development where the ecological impact will be minimized.

ii. Develop a Lyme disease and tick borne disease prevention plan through education, controlling deer population, and reducing tick habitat as possible

. b. Policies

a. Policies

 94% protecting stream corridors

 94% protecting of scenic views and ridgelines

 91% protecting forest areas

 90% protecting wetlands

 90% protecting wildlife habitat

 89% using zoning to protect critical environmental areas

 86% using incentives for private land conservation

 78% supporting solar energy

 92% protecting agriculture from the impacts of development

 90% working to support local farm products

 90% supporting agricultural based businesses

 87% supporting community supported agriculture

 81% supporting niche agriculture

 81% increasing farmer representation on local boards

 74% purchasing development rights to preserve working farms

About Mary Alex

Town Clerk, Town of Washington, NY
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One Response to Revised Goal 3 – Agriculture & Environmental Protection

  1. Stephen Kaye says:

    ‘No agricultural acreage was lost between 1986 and 2008″. This statement is indefensible. There have been numerous drives, houses, lawns and abandonments in those years. If the measure is the ag assessments, that measure is not valid. Fields have grown up into brush, fields have degenerated from ag use to non-use. Whether or not they were once in the ag assessement is not the issue; the land use is what should be the measure, not whether or not a landowner has filed for a tax exemption. Katie Couric for one has withdrawn all her land from ag use. It is now in weeds. This has happened to many smaller parcels. Reliance on the tax abatement records of the assessor gives a flawed view of what is happening to agricultural lands. The quoted statement should be recast. A proper survey should be done as to what land is actively farmed and what land is not farmed. Farm land is often degraded by construction of a driveway or road that cuts through the middle of a prime farm field. This not only reduces the acreage of farmland, it can render the remaining field less valuable for farming because the remaining sections are too small or ill-shaped for farm equipment.

    “The primary issue has shifted…” Has it? How did that happen? Who shifted it? Is there any basis for that shift? Seems a questionable statement. Water quality is certainly one basis for an environmentally aware policy, but it is not the only policy driver.
    The discussion omits the protection of land for agriculture as an economic resource necessary for a sustainable community. Suggesting that the agricultural landscape is more valued for its aesthetic amenity than for its use to produce food and fiber reduces its importance. It will be very difficult to say no to a developer if the only reason to say no is the amenity value of a rural landscape. However, if good agricultural land is seen as necessary for a sustainable community, then we are on solid ground. Many people in our community only eat what is grown locally. Local meat, vegetables and fruit. Local bread is made from local flour. This is a growing trend and should be recognized. Using planners from suburban communities who are unaware of what is happening in rural communities will handicap our efforts to produce a document that reflects local values.

    There is no mention of the forests that make up a large percentage of our landscape.
    Forests are mentioned in the old plan. Their importance is now better understood. There should be a statement that forests are a vital natural resource that need recognition for the environmental services they provide: their take up of CO2, their production of oxygen; their water retention and regulation, their flood control services, especially on the slopes of our hills; they are the primary habitats for our wildlife; the sources of biodiversity; they play a role in local weather patterns. They help replenish our aquifers. They are our source of wood and raw materials. They provide jobs for woodsmen, heat for houses, wood for craftsmen. Food for those who forage, and cover for the deer and turkey that feed families, especially those whose only protein source might be what they can hunt.

    There are far more reasons to protect a forest than the steep slope argument.

    There should be a section of wildlife. Wildlife is a natural resource that we have. We should recognize it in our plan. We now have bears, wild cats (fishers, bob cats, maybe mountain lions); we have a range of bird life. Many of these species need large uninterrupted forests. There should be a statement that wildlife is a resource for the entire region. It’s continued existence depends on our stewardship of habitats. Every loss of habitat puts greater stress on the remaining habitat. Continued loss of species through habitat destruction is a world-wide problem that plays out town by town. We can do our part by protecting the valuable habitats that we have in our town.

    We should incorporate the biological inventory prepared by Hudsonia as part of the data base for our town.