The town of Ballston is close to becoming the third town in Saratoga County to adopt a plan to preserve its agricultural landscape.
The Town Board has scheduled a vote for Tuesday on a draft agriculture and farmland protection plan, which calls for the town to adopt various measures to preserve farmland and encourage established farms to continue in operation.
Having a plan in place will also help if the town in the future applies for federal or state funding to aid farmers.
“I’m very supportive of the farmland protection plan,” said Town Supervisor Patrick Ziegler, who took office last week and now leads an all-Republican Town Board.
Farmland in Ballston, as throughout Saratoga County, is under development pressure because of population growth and the demand for land for new housing developments.
Like most of the county’s towns, Ballston has a strong historic connection to farming, going back to its founding in the 1770s.
Despite the amount of new housing in town, a number of farms remain, especially in the western part of the town. The plan states they have a multimillion-dollar impact in the local economy, as well as a role in preserving open vistas and supplying of local food.
About 54 percent of the town’s land is considered to be agricultural.
“When you look at the zoning map, a large part of this town is still rural and agricultural, and this plan will lay a foundation for keeping agriculture strong for the next 225 years,” Ziegler said.
If the plan is adopted, Ballston would join Charlton and Malta as Saratoga County communities with adopted farmland protection plans, said county Planner Jaime O’Neill, who handles agriculture issues for the county Planning Department.
Moreau is also in the process of developing a farmland protection plan, while Milton recently received state funding to help write a plan.
Each of the five communities have received $25,000 grants from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets under a state program intended to help communities preserve their existing farmland. The money is generally used to hire a planning consultant to help the towns write a plan.
Ballston’s plan was developed by Elan Planning of Saratoga Springs, with oversight by a citizen committee.
The draft Ballston plan recommends creating a permanent agriculture and farm commission, which would establish an online farmers’ network and provide ongoing advice to town officials on agricultural issues.
The plan also recommends the town hire a part-time professional planner to work on farmland protection strategies, and consider making changes to its zoning law that will support agriculture.
“They did a farm-friendly audit of their zoning law and pointed out some weaknesses in the ordinance in terms of supporting agriculture,” O’Neill said.
The draft plan also discusses ideas such as purchasing the development rights to farmland, which give farmers compensation for not developing their land. Such agreements can permanently preserve farmland, though they are so expensive they generally require state grant support.
Ziegler praised the citizen committee that has been working on the plan for more than a year.
“They did a really tremendous job and have developed a plan that hopefully we can start implementing in the very near future,” he said.