If we were to list the many values of our beautiful town of Suffield, we could probably fill the pages of this newspaper. Our wonderful citizens, great schools, lovely buildings and churches, parks, local businesses and emergency services are all special. But the one thing that separates us from many other towns is the amount of open space, forest and farmland which is the envy of other municipalities.
How did this happen? It was the combination of excellent legislation and the forward thinking of individuals, farmers and town leaders who took advantage of the opportunities available.
In 1963, the Connecticut Legislature passed Public Act 63-490 (P.A. 490). This act relates to the taxation and preservation of farm, forest and open spaces. It provided for the assessment of these lands on the basis of their value as it is currently used, rather than their fair market value at its highest and best use. This one act encourages land owners to keep property in agriculture or open space as their taxes would be somewhat lower than if the lands were taxed as buildable.
Even with this great legislation in place, some people continued to sell open space for many reasons including family illness, old age, overwhelming debt or death. Many farmers’ only equity was in their land, not in money in the bank.
So in the 1980s, the towns, state and federal governments came up with a Farmland Preservation plan where people could continue to own their farm or their property but they could not sell it for development. They still had to maintain the land and pay their taxes and insurance on their property. In return they would receive a monetary compensation for selling their development rights. The money given to the farmers who took advantage of this was generally 25% funded by the town and 75% funded by the state and federal governments after 2001.
While PA 490 and Farmland Preservation are available to all towns in Connecticut and other states, some towns had chosen not to participate for various reasons. Suffield, however, has done and is continuing to do an outstanding job in this area. It is our town’s goal to preserve 55% of our residentially zoned lands and as of this writing we are close to that goal with 237,000+ acres under preservation. There is no doubt that everyone benefits by keeping open land available for wildlife and conservation, control of town growth as well as supplying local fresh food and fiber and maintaining a quality of life for its citizens.
It is to the Suffield citizens, town officials (past and present) and the land owners that a great deal of credit should be given for their forward thinking in joining in partnership with local, state and federal governments. It is also what makes Suffield such a beautiful and desirable town in which to live.