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New Ipswich

Unused town field could be farmed

Land was originally donated for athletics

NEW IPSWICH — When Dixie Rhoads of New Ipswich donated a slice of land behind her home to the town, she was very specific about what it could be used for. Athletic fields, and only athletic fields. Specifically, soccer fields, as at that time the town’s soccer organizations were seeking grants and hopeful of being able to put in a field on the land.

The intent was to keep the land undeveloped, an open space, explained Rhoads to the town’s Select Board during their meeting last Tuesday. Even the athletic fields would be limited in what they could do with the land — with no permanent structures or lighting allowed.

But as the years have gone on since Rhoads donated the land, the soccer field fell through, and the town does not have the money or resources on hand to build any other fields on that land, nor any plans for the near future. It’s a situation that has farmer Tim Jones, who purchased the home formally owned by Rhoads in July 2013, looking at that back field with interest.

“That field has been going to pot,” Jones told the Select Board. “The edges are creeping in, because nothing has been done to it excepting haying, and last year it wasn’t even hayed.”

Jones began to see possibilities for the field fitting into his organic farming model, both as an agricultural field and as a grazing place to be rotated among his livestock, including pigs, chickens, and dairy cows. Eventually, he wrote to the Select Board, asking permission for use of the land.

At the time, the board felt that it would be a good use of the property, but the deed conveyed by Rhoads to the town was clear on the restrictions of use, so the Select Board decided to bring her into the conversation.

Rhoads is all for the agricultural use of the land, she told the board on March 18. “I’m fully in favor,” she declared. “To me that is logical and makes sense.” Rhoads said she was willing to have a new deed prepared that would allow for agricultural uses of the property. “I should have done that to begin with,” she said. Rhoads said she specified the fields for athletics use because she had a desire to see the land kept open and undeveloped, and at the time, the soccer organization had a need for space for fields. However, she said, she should have taken a longer view of the potential uses for the property. Even if one day athletic field are able to be put in use on the property, they may go in and out of use over the years, she said. Agricultural uses are an acceptable alternative that will allow the original intent of her restrictions to be met.

Select Board Chair Lawrence agreed that allowing Jones use of the property would probably be for the best, as no one else was using it, and the field was becoming overgrown and wouldn’t be useful for athletic fields if things continued the way they were.

Jones explained that he had a long-term plan for the fields. Because his farm is completely organic, there are some soil testing to meet organic standards he will have to implement before using the land, and then a slow process of rotating crops and grazing animals to make the land suitable for crops.

It will be years before the land it really useful to him from a farming perspective, he explained, so he would only be interested in a long term lease. It will take about five years to make the land farmable, he said, so he would be seeking at least a 15 year lease. After the lease is up, the land will go back into town use, or be the town will have the option to continue to lease the land.

Since Jones would be looking for a significant time commitment, the board decided to first contact the town’s soccer organization to discuss whether there were any forthcoming plans to develop the fields into soccer fields. Rhoads agreed to move forward with having a new deed made up in the meantime.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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