In 1999, Suffield through its Planning & Zoning and Conservation Commissions established a 10-year goal to preserve 55% of the Towns residentially zoned land as open space, or 13,445 acres. The 2010 Plan of Conservation and Development carried this goal over. Then in 2012, the Town’s Open Space Plan changed the language to preserve a minimum of 55% of the town’s residentially zoned land as open space. Farmland preservation has been the preferred means of achieving this goal and nearly 2,400 acres of farmland and open space has been preserved since the 1980s. Suffield has the second most preserved farmland in Connecticut behind only Lebanon.
Suffield has been successful at preserving farmland for two main reasons. First, the town has some of the best farmland soils in the Connecticut River Valley, and because the town had the foresight to start setting aside funding into an open space account. Since 1999, the town has allocated over $4.5 M into the open space account and these funds are used in conjunction with State and Federal grants to purchase the development rights to farms. Since 2001, the town has spent $3.7 M while leveraging $10.1M in State and Federal funds on farmland and open space preservation.
The Department of Agriculture’s farmland preservation program makes purchasing development rights to a property a relatively straightforward albeit sometimes lengthy process. However, if an agreement is reached with the property owner, the Town and State pay a one-time fee to purchase the development rights on their land, which prohibits non-agricultural development. These farms remain privately owned and continue to pay taxes. In addition, since the property can only be sold for agricultural purposes it keeps farmland affordable for future generations.
More recently, the town has been considering preserving properties that may not be farmland. There are many large open space properties in town that are worthy of preservation for a number of reasons including the presence of important wildlife habitat or natural resource areas. Many of these properties are strategically located in areas where there is existing open space nearby. Therefore, preserving these properties would help to create a cluster of protected land that would be open to the public for passive recreation. The Department of Energy & Environmental Protection offers a grant program to preserve open space properties. A new grant round was recently announced with applications due June 1, and the Town intends to apply.
Farmland and open space preservation continues to be one of the most supported initiatives in Suffield. Residents routinely say that farmland and open space contributes to their quality of life and is one of the reasons they moved to town. Just as important is that preserving farmland keeps the towns’ agricultural heritage intact. Currently, there are three preservation projects in the pipeline. If all three are successful, there will be another 200 acres of preserved farmland and open space in town. If you are interested in learning more about farmland or open space preservation in Suffield, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.