The town-appointed Farmland Protection & Preservation Committee plans to recommend that the town buy part of the Cappiello farm on Route 50 to preserve it as a working farm.
Local municipalities have bought parcels for use as open space, recreation or wild forest, but a town buying land and keeping it as a working farm would be unusual, said John Arnold, Saratoga County Farm Bureau president.
Joan Pott, chairwoman of the Ballston farmland preservation committee, envisions the farm as having all of the above. She would like to see the town lease cropland to a farmer, as the current owners do now, use the three existing soccer fields and add trails to connect to the town bicycle path in the woods behind the property.
“The land itself serves so many different purposes,” said Donald Rhodes, a town resident and professional engineer who is working with the committee. “I think it’s like a Whitman’s Sampler — it’s got something for everyone in there.”
If the town didn’t want to own the property itself, it could form a nonprofit organization for that purpose and still use it as public land, Pott said.
The farmland committee plans to present the Town Board with a more formal plan — including dollar figures — at a meeting Aug. 28.
Committee members have had brief but positive conversations with the real estate broker representing the Cappiello family, Margaret Phillips of Olde Orchard Real Estate, both sides say.
“The family’s interested in, obviously, not retaining that entire property. It would be their desire that it not be turned into townhouses or houses,” Phillips said.
The 289-acre property is listed for $2.7 million, and Phillips acknowledged that the town isn’t looking to spend that much money. Rhodes said he hopes the town could spend about $600,000 to buy part of the property. Phillips said she and the committee haven’t discussed prices or how much property the town would want.
The committee identified the Cappiello farm and the Lang farm on Middleline Road as being at greatest risk of not being farmed anymore, Pott said. The town is currently considering putting an offer on the Lang farm to turn it into a passive recreational park for town residents.
Farmland preservation advocates would be sad to see the Lang property not be farmed anymore, Pott said.
“Right now that’s a turn-key operation,” she said. “Anybody could walk in.”
If it becomes recreation land, it will probably never be farmland again, she said, because trees and shrubs grow quickly if they’re not leveled every year.
People sometimes don’t understand the difference between open space and farmland preservation, Pott said.
“There is a difference,” she said. “By not understanding that difference and by using the terms interchangeably, confusion results.
“[Tax] dollars continue to be spent … for all kinds of things that don’t produce food.”
Rhodes said the committee isn’t looking to interfere with the town’s park plans — the Cappiello proposal could be separate. But keeping farmland intact depends on having people willing and able to farm it.
“Not every farm has a next generation or a next generation that wants to farm,” Pott said.
And many farmers, after spending decades scraping together a living, need to cash in their land value to retire.
“For many farmers, their land is their 401(k),” Pott said.
People who want to preserve the Cappiello farm from development often mention the view. The property overlooks Ballston Lake, and the Green Mountains of Vermont are also visible in the distance.
“It’s just a gorgeous piece of rolling hillside,” Pott said.
Several years ago, public sentiment was on the side of keeping the Cappiello farm undeveloped. In 2004, developer Victor Gush proposed building 800 housing units there for a subdivision called the Saratoga Saddle Club, which incited public outcry. Gush backed out of the plans in 2006, after twice reducing the size of the proposed development, the second time to 650 units.
In 2009, a Florida development group expresses interest in putting nearly 300 homes on the land, mostly condominiums, but that idea didn’t progress beyond the conceptual stage.
After Gush’s 2004 proposal and an unrelated plan for a Walmart supercenter and large-scale retail plaza on Route 50 just south of Ballston Spa, the Town Board put a moratorium on major building projects until the town’s Comprehensive Plan was rewritten. Rhodes presided over the Comprehensive Plan Committee.