Saratoga County

Town’s rural character topic of workshop

People don’t think of Charlton as having much industry, but it actually has one big one: Agriculture

People don’t think of Charlton as having much industry, but it actually has one big one: Agriculture.

Dairy farms, horse farms and dozens of other agricultural businesses cover more than half the land in town.

“It is definitely our number one industry,” said Town Supervisor Alan R. Grattidge.

A newly released draft Farmland Protection Plan is suggesting things the town can do to keep local farms viable, even as the amount of development pressure on farmland builds and farmers see new outlets for their products.

“There are still large contiguous blocks of land being farmed, and that’s critical to the viability of farming,” Grattidge said.

A public workshop on the plan will be held on April 29 at the Charlton Freehold Presbyterian Church hall, part of a process that could lead to adoption of the plan this fall.

Town officials have worked to maintain its rural character for decades, even as towns closer to the Northway saw farms converted into subdivisions. The town land-use master plan adopted in 2007 already says preserving agriculture should be the top town priority.

About 55 percent of the town’s land is in agricultural ownership, according to the report.

“Everyone always says they want Charlton to stay the way it is, and an important part of that is having working farms, and supporting working agriculture,” Grattidge said.

The town plan is being developed under a $25,000 grant the town received from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets in 2007. The money was used to hire Behan Planning Associates of Saratoga Springs, the same firm that wrote Saratoga County’s green infrastructure plan in 2006. It has been working with a citizen task force to come up with recommendations.

The draft plan contains an analysis of current agriculture and the threats it faces, and suggests ideas for its preservation, illustrated with photos taken at local farms.

“Behan consultants have done a beautiful job,” Grattidge said.

The draft plan notes that nearly the entire town has prime agricultural soil types, and that small land subdivisions, over time, can have as much impact as a single large subdivision. The plan notes development pressure will only grow with the arrival of the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant in Malta and redevelopment in Schenectady.

Draft recommendations include doing more to promote local agriculture to the public — taking advantage of the growing desire of people to eat locally produced foods. Advertising aimed at local people and a new Web site would be possibilities, it says.

Also, it says, town zoning laws could be changed to make it easier to operate retail farm stands and to allow small-acreage businesses like goat or llama farms alongside the larger farms. The town could promote the fact it has a right-to-farm law, protecting farmers against complaints about common practices like manure spreading.

The town could also look at a program to purchase the development rights to farmland — but that would be expensive, costing sometimes $1 million or more per farm.

Grattidge said some less expensive ideas are likely to be better received, and there are many in the plan.

The workshop on the draft plan will be held at 7 p.m. April 29 at the Charlton Freehold Presbyterian Church on Charlton Road.

“We’re really looking to lay it out and get feedback from residents,” Grattidge said.

Grattidge said response at the workshop could lead to changes in the plan, which he expects will be submitted to the Town Board for consideration this summer. The board could adopt it after holding a public hearing.

The draft plan is posted for review on the town’s web site, www.townofcharlton.

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