We were dismayed to read in the paper that the Pepperell Board of Selectmen have reservations about supporting Agricultural Preservation Restrictions for the 86-acre Gardner farm on River Road. For those of you not familiar with it, APR provides for purchasing the development rights for prime farmland from the owner, so that the land can continue to be used for agriculture, forestry, recreation, or other uses, even if the land is sold to new owners. The state currently loses thousands of acres of farm land to development each year. All previous boards of selectmen have supported this program in Pepperell in the past, and the town currently has two farms under APR, the Keiser property on Brookline Street and Kimball Farm.
So what are the selectmen’s reservations? It can’t be a matter of direct costs to the town — the state funds the program. According to last week’s Free Press, “both selectmen Michael Green and Joseph Sergi expressed muted concern over such a large parcel being restricted to agricultural use.”
“‘Just as a selectman, in terms of revenue and the challenges we have as a town, we have to balance the two,’ Sergi said.”
“‘I’m trying to balance the possibility of taking out good land that could help the town,’ Green said.”
What is going on here? Are they saying that the town has too much farm land? Are they suggesting that farm land doesn’t help the town right now? The land will remain on the tax rolls (it will continue to be privately owned), and the revenue generated by the farms will continue to remain in town. Without the APR, present or future owners would likely sell the property to developers, who might be able to build 40 or more houses on the property. Would this be better for all of us?
Are the selectmen under the delusion that the town can bulldoze its way out of its current financial crisis? Faster residential development may boost tax revenues in the short run, but soon these are offset — and often overcome — by the costs of growth: more children to educate; more streets to pave, plow, and patrol; and a larger and more expensive town government to serve a growing population.
Is it possible that the selectmen have plans to expand commercial or industrial development down River Road, well beyond what they’re already considering for the site of the Peter Fitzpatrick School? If they do, perhaps they could share these plans with the rest of us.
Isn’t Pepperell in far greater danger of running out of farmland than it is running out of land to develop for housing or commerce? The town right now has hundreds of real or potential lots for housing development, not to mention a prime vacant commercial parcel right in the middle of downtown. Agriculture helps our local economy, which ultimately boosts tax revenue, as well as providing us with locally-grown fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs and hay. Even if not actively farmed, land under APR protection provides valuable open space and opportunities for forestry or recreation. Shouldn’t we be trying to preserve all of the small amount of active farmland we have left in town for its economic, nutritional, environmental and aesthetic value?
We urge the selectmen to reconsider and enthusiastically support this application.
RON AND DIANE KARR