The Westford Conservation Trust Board of Directors recently voted to oppose the amendment to the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) of protected farmland at 66-68 Boston Rd as proposed in Article 16 of the March 23rd Town Meeting warrant. This is a very important conservation issue for the town and the Board felt it very important to share with you our concerns prior to the Town Meeting.
Article 16 on the Town Meeting Warrant, if passed, would set a precedent which would endanger all of the efforts the town has put into preserving and maintaining the natural character of Westford. To help maintain the town’s character the residents have voted at various times to expend funds to preserve pockets of natural landscape and historic land throughout Westford. There are two farm properties which the town purchased the development rights to via the process of Agricultural Preservation Restrictions (APR). The terms of the APRs allow the farmer/owner to keep farming the property but to sell the development rights to the town. The APRs run with the property when it is sold and the Town retains the development rights.
The subject of Article 16 deals with one of these properties located at 66-68 Boston Rd. The current owner purchased it for a farmland price because of the APR. However, he now claims that part of the property is not farmable and therefore essentially wants you to agree to allow him to have a portion of the property, currently zoned as Residential to be “pocket zoned” as Commercial. The claim that the property could not be profitably farmed without amending the APR is not supported by the following official documents:
1. An evaluation of the property by the realty firm Avery Associates dated 9/18/14 established a retail property value of $725K.
2. The two previous owners of the property reported profitable operations as it existed at the time of their ownership.
3. A more recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture dated 8/22/16 confirms that the entire property is farmable. This study took into account which type of crops were planted, what soil amendments were made, and the set aside of land for the farmstand, parking and the limited use of greenhouses as a previous owner had done.
Most importantly, allowing “pocket zoning” of this property from Residential to Commercial would set a dangerous precedent for 90% of all of the town property which today is classified as Residential. There are approximately 4,500 acres of undeveloped land in this category.
The last major concern is that the development rights that the Town owns on this property are today worth approximately $2.5M for the whole 9 acre property under the current Residential classification. If the 3 acres are “pocket zoned” to prime Commercial property, the estimated value of that parcel would increase to approximately $2.8M to $3.0M when comparing it to similar prime properties located on Route 110. We are not aware of any effort by the owner to address the current value of Westford’s ownership of the development rights to the property with regards to Article 16.
These facts are the basis of the Board’s unanimous opposition to Article 16. The Board of Selectmen should be encouraged to continue their efforts to ensure that the current owner complies with the terms of the APR by utilizing and properly maintaining the property as it was intended, as a farm.