Selling the family farm

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For many in town, as farm property has been passed along through the generations, zoning laws have become more restrictive and complicated each year. When an aunt or uncle dies, several family members may own the farm. I am in this situation now. The new owners agree it is time to sell. We listed the property at 186 Case Street of 86 acres and immediately got a low-ball offer. I wanted to counter offer with less land to protect some of the acreage. The rest of the family wanted to counter offer on price. After raised voices from cousins that grew up as friends, we found out any counter offer would be rejected. Tension among the family members continues. The family says it is a democracy and the majority of owners decide. I told them legally everyone has to sign. Family should try to make everyone happy.

I want to save some property for farming and the rest of the family wants to sell the entire piece at once with no regard as to its future. When my wife and I bought my uncle’s house, which is the old farmhouse across the street from his estate, in 1994 the community planner was Fran Armentano. I believe he was fairly new to the town. I went to him with my concerns and desire to keep the fields in farming. 

Many years later, the Case Street Study (that added many restrictions and requires four-acre building lots) was prepared with little input from large parcel owners. I told Fran then that this reduced property values substantially. He said the building lots should sell at a higher price so the value does not go down. In the last couple of years I asked if the town would buy the development rights to save the fields for farming. He and others in the town said no. I talked to the state and was told it would be too small an acreage. 

Finally the family decided. They said that they would sell me the property for an agreed price. Now one owner is in a nursing home and State Medicaid is involved in the background.  I do not have that kind of money. So I have been trying to get enough people interested to buy it. After many ads and signs, and many false offers, a site developer is working with me to develop the property. His son answered one of the ads and wants to build a house on the property. 

A year has gone by and his father offered to buy about 40 acres in front and develop it once planning and zoning agrees to the subdivision. He is not interested in making money, but there are a lot of costs (soil scientists, engineers, a road or driveways). At this time it looks like we need to subdivide the property into seven building lots, of which he wants to build on one or two. Of course this will not protect the fields since it is the two best building lots near the road. I am still pursuing saving the fields for agriculture. 

The current planner, Abby, said the town has no money to buy the development rights, but she gave me some people to contact. I contacted the state again. Now they have a Community Farms Preservation Program (CFPP) for smaller acreage. If all goes right, the state will buy the development rights to two building lots. If so, only five building lots are needed to cover costs. 

The state requires a partner like a municipality to go in about 25 percent, so I will be asking the town to assist. Basically under Section the zoning commission may authorize the applicant to pay a fee, which I believe is 10 percent of the property value, in lieu of designated open space. I will request the town use the fee I pay to partner with the state to save the farm land. 

Please wish me luck. Sometimes the town does not understand the way I say things. If you can assist in explaining, please accompany me to the Planning and Zoning meeting. It should be scheduled soon.