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BETSY GILLILAND , Staff Writer 09/03/2004

WEST CHESTER -- The county commissioners are expected to approve contracts totaling almost $1.3 million for the purchase of agricultural easements on two Chester County farms next week.

The commissioners discussed the easements, which include contiguous acreage on farms in Sadsbury and in West Sadsbury, at their Thursday work session.

"Our goal is to save as much open space and especially agricultural land as we can," said Commissioner Andrew Dinniman after the meeting. "And we’ve taken another step toward that goal."

The county will pay $500,000 for the development rights to 50 acres of the 58-acre dairy and crop farm of Eli and Malinda Stoltzfus in Sadsbury.

With its $793,910 purchase of an agricultural conservation easement on the Edith S. Hershey farm in West Sadsbury, the county will preserve 80 acres of the 110-acre corn and soybean farm.

The Stoltzfus farm was the top priority of the 58 farms that were included in last year’s round of grant applications, said William Gladden II, the county director of open space preservation.

"This was rated the number one farm by the preservation board," said commissioners’ Chairwoman Carol Aichele after the meeting. "So it’s certainly a valuable asset for Chester County as an agricultural easement."

Gladden said the Hershey farm ranked seventh of the county’s list of priorities in the 2003 round.

The parcels also are adjacent to another 82.5-acre farm easement, he said.

"Within a half-mile of these farms, there is another 70 acres that is eased," Gladden said in a telephone interview.

The easements are part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Chester County Agricultural Program. This joint program was established in 1989 in response to the sharp drop in the state’s farm acreage in the 1980s.

The county fully funded the purchase of these easements.

However, said Gladden, "There are other farms that the state will pay for 100 percent, and it will come out to be a 50-50 match."

He said the county has earmarked about $3.5 million, which will be matched by the state, for the program this year.

"At the end of the day, $7 million in agricultural preservation will have been invested in Chester County," said Gladden.

Under this partnership between the county and the state, these easements will boost Chester County’s total of preserved acreage to 17,746 on 177 farms.

The county, which also has a preservation program with local municipalities, will increase its numbers to 18,614 acres saved on 189 farms under both programs.

Land parcels are rated according to four factors -- soil quality, development potential, farmland potential and clustering potential -- to be considered for eligibility in the county-state program.

"The soil quality is the heaviest weighted of those factors," said Gladden.

The clustering potential of the Stoltzfus and Hershey properties was an important consideration for these easements, he said.

"It’s almost like finding an edge piece if you’re working a big puzzle," Gladden said.

Farmland preservation also is important to support agriculture-related businesses and services in the county, said Dinniman.

"Agri-business is still, in terms of earnings, the most significant part of the Chester County economy," he said.

The success of this program depends on a number of players, said Gladden, including landowners, the county commissioners, the state and the county Agricultural Land Preservation board.

"It’s a tremendous partnership at all levels," he said.

İDaily Local News 2004

Reader Opinions: 

Name: John Goldman

Date: Sep, 03 2004

Good one James, I'm also confused. I'm a lower class stuck-in-traffic tax slave whose income is constantly raped by the county and school district. That land isn’t mine those children aren’t mine! I've read articles where agriculture land was re-zoned into residential land to build houses, to fatten the developers wallets, which dose not take the taxpayers money. Then why should re-zoning land into agricultural land, require the taxpayers money? I guess it doesn’t fatten the developer’s wallets or generate taxes, so they take it from us. Makes no sense to me.

Name: James Brown

Date: Sep, 03 2004

I am confused. Is the county buying easement rights to farmland to keep it as farm land and if so what is the justification to taxpayers? If we are paying for these easements to keep land agricultural what use do I as a taxpayer receive from my investment other than seeing someone raise crops and benefit from the easement. I am confused.


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