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Wilton

The case for a Frye Farm easement

Russell Farm, Forest Conservation Foundation representative advocates at meeting

  • Ian McSweeney of the Russell Farm and Forest Foundation speaks about the positive aspects of conservation of Abbott Hill at a public meeting Wednesday night.
  • Ian McSweeney of the Russell Farm and Forest Foundation speaks about the positive aspects of conservation of Abbott Hill at a public meeting Wednesday night.
  • Ian McSweeney of the Russell Farm and Forest Foundation speaks about the positive aspects of conservation of Abbott Hill at a public meeting Wednesday night.

WILTON — On Thursday, residents will gather at Town Meeting to weigh in on the issues. One of the most discussed this year is Article 13 — whether the town will vote to expend up to $80,000 to put toward the purchase of an easement on Abbott Hill.

The land, currently owned by the Frye family, is under a purchase agreement to be bought by the High Mowing School. The agreement includes the purchase of 105 acres of Frye Farm land, as well as the conservation of that land and the conservation of an additional 50 acres of land already owned by High Mowing. The land will be owned by High Mowing, but the conservation easement will be held by the Yggdrasil Land Foundation. The majority of the $1.6 purchase price for the easements has been raised through private fundraising and contributions by the U.S. Federal Farm and Ranch Land conservation fund. However, there is still $300,000 needed before reaching the final purchase price.

At a public meeting at the library on Wednesday, Ian McSweeney, the director of the Russell Farm and Forest Conservation Foundation, who has been facilitating the easement and the raising of funds to purchase it, spoke about the project and answered questions.

When asked about the tax implications of putting an easement on the property, McSweeney explained that a conservation easement does not exempt the land from taxation. However, being owned by a school would. Last year, the Frye’s paid $522 on that acreage, which is in current use, explained McSweeney. There is an existing pole barn on the property, which the school will still be responsible for paying taxes on, but the town will lose approximately $350 to $400 in tax revenue yearly.

The easement does not allow for development of the land, but there are structures that are allowed to be built on it within the easement, McSweeney said — those that are directly related to agricultural and forestry use. Things such as a barn or a maple sugar house are allowed. There are specific pockets of land that are set aside where those structures can be built, said McSweeney, and total structures cannot cover more than 2 percent of the property. The school will be taxed on those structures as they are built.

One resident asked how much say the town would have in the allowed uses of the land if it were to buy into the easement. McSweeney replied that there was a negotiation phase which the town would be able to use to negotiate for things that it was seeking. As part of the easement, the town would have access to passive recreation uses of the land, including hiking, fishing, and use of an existing snowmobiling trail. Hunting would not be allowed, since the land houses a school, he noted.

Another resident questioned how much right the other organizations participating in the purchase of the easement would have. McSweeney explained that the Farm and Ranch Land Conservation program would not have same kind of access as the town or school. Their interest was in preserving valuable farm soils, so the easement was beneficial for them in a different way, he said. Representatives would be responsible for routinely surveying the property to ensure that the easement was being maintained however.

Resident Kermit Williams asked about stewardship costs. McSweeney replied that there are stewardship costs associated with the easement, but they are built into the purchase price and will be paid by High Mowing School and the Yggdrasil Land Foundation, and not by the town.

Town Meeting in Wilton is on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the gymnasium of Florence Rideout Elementary School. Ballot voting is today at the Town Hall.

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

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