Plan seeks to promote, retain agriculture

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Hampton Planning Board Chair Bonnie Hawley explains the town agricultural plan, which is intended to promote and retain farming in the community, at the start of a public hearing on the proposal Nov. 8. The hearing generated a few concerns but no objections after board members stressed the document will not impose any new regulations on farm activities or land use in the town. Photo by EJ Conzola II

By EJ Conzola II

A plan created to help promote and retain agriculture in Hampton is headed to the Town Board after a Nov. 8 public hearing on the proposal generated few concerns and no objections.

Members of the town Planning Board, which spearheaded the two-year process of creating the plan, stressed that the proposal was intended to help existing farmers and those who might want to get into farming, not impose new regulations.

The plan is “really just a book of suggestions,” said board member Richard Cole, who described himself as the most anti-regulation member of the board.

“This was just a way to put some ideas out there,” said Planning Board Chair Bonnie Hawley.  

The concerns raised at the meeting – the second opportunity for residents to comment on the draft plan — centered on worries that the document would be used to restrict what farmers can do with their land. Several of the speakers specifically cited a provision that suggested the town should consider “(u)pdat(ing) the subdivision law to promote use of the conservation subdivision technique for major subdivisions (five lots or more).”

Some speakers expressed concerns about restrictions that would limit what farmers could do with their land in the future, whether they decide to pass the farm on to others or sell the land for nonagricultural development.

“I’m very nervous about ownership rights,” Walter Douglas told the board.

Supervisor David O’Brien reassured the half dozen people who turned out for the hearing that the Town Board would never accept a plan that would place restrictions on what farmers – or any property owners – can do with their land, except in cases in which neighboring properties would be adversely affected.

Board members “want you to do what you want to do with your farm,” O’Brien said, adding that he could not foresee a time when Hampton would enact zoning or similar land-use restrictions.

“I don’t want to be tarred and feathered,” he said.

Almost all of those who attended the hearing had previously attended the meeting at which the plan was unveiled, where many of the same concerns were raised.

O’Brien noted that without the plan, Hampton farmers would not be eligible for state grants that could help them grow or maintain their farms.

Cole said he supported the plan because its adoption could benefit farmers without placing limits on them.

“If it doesn’t have any teeth, I don’t see a negative,” Cole said.

The plan next goes to the Town Board for approval. Once the town acts, the plan will go on to the Washington County Agriculture Protection Board, then to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.