CLIFTON PARK — Bowman Orchards is taking steps to permanently protect its land from development.
Owners of the 96-acre farm on Sugarhill Road in Rexford announced plans to sell development rights to a municipality or organization that will be responsible for maintaining a permanent conservation easement on the parcel.
Such legal agreements, typically between land owners and a government agency or land trust, strictly limit what the land can be used for, though landowners retain use of the land and still have the right to sell it. Any future owners, however, would also be bound by the permanent conservation easement.
Whoever owns the easement is responsible for making sure that the landowners continue to use the property for the specific purpose laid out in the agreement, such as farming.
In return for selling development rights to conservation groups, landowners receive an immediate infusion of cash.
New York state’s Farmland Protection Program provides grants to help land trusts purchase development rights from farmers.
Maria Trabka of Saratoga PLAN said the organization is considering purchasing the development rights to Bowman Orchards. While it was too early to know specifically how much the state could provide for the Bowman farm project, creating permanent conservation easements on other projects has cost upward of $1 million, she said.
Trabka did not have an estimate on the dollar amount the Bowmans would receive for the land, and expected that to come later in the process.
She added that the process can be lengthy, sometimes taking two years.
“We sometimes discover title issues or trust issues with the land,” she said. “It gets cleaned up along the way.”
Funding from the state, said Jennifer Viggiani, open space coordinator for the town of Clifton Park, will cover some of the costs that Saratoga PLAN could incur through the land appraisal process, property surveys, and creating the agreement.
The total cost of the project, she said, will include the money the Bowmans will receive for giving up future development options for the land.
The state will potentially fund up to 87 percent of the cost of such projects when conservation entities take them on alone. The state will fund up to 70 percent of a project if a municipality is involved in the effort. The rest of the costs fall on property owners or other groups involved.
The goal, Trabka said, is for Saratoga PLAN to apply for grants by July. Then, the state will go through all the applications it has received for conservation easements and decide on how to distribute the grant money.
The process is worth the time and money, she said.
“This is forever,” she said about the land. “It’s going to feed people forever.”
Kevin Bowman, an owner at Bowman Orchards, explained that high development pressure in Clifton Park was a major factor in the decision.
“We want to be able to continue farming,” Bowman said. “This is one avenue we could take to continue farming.”
Viggiani agreed that a permanent conservation easement can lift pressure from local farmers.
"Instead of getting the value of their land from a developer and leaving the land, they get the value from this grant opportunity," she said. "The state looks really highly on viable farms."
"If they want to continue farming," she added, "this is the way."
The Bowman family purchased the farm in 1952 and opened for business in the fall of that year. Since then, Bowman Orchards has grown fruit and vegetables, hosted events and parties, and sold other products out of its store.
The farm is also frequently involved with area events, including the town's Farmfest.
The Bowmans are currently making improvements on the site. Last week, the Clifton Park Planning Board gave them approval to build a farm store to replace the old store on the site.
The new store, which will measure just over 5,500 square feet, will be placed directly on the footprint of the farm's previous store, which the Bowmans tore down earlier this year.
The new store will be located on the site about 600 feet from the road. It will have an updated heating and cooling system, as well as an interior design that allows a steady flow of customers in and out of the store and into the parking lot.
The back of the store will feature a refrigerated sale area that is three times the size of the cold sale area in the old store, Bowman said. The building will also contain a refrigerated area for long-term storage, as well as a porch around the building.
The new store, Bowman said, will give them the ability to store apples in a large place connected to the store, as opposed to putting apples into a cooler and bringing it to the store as they have done in the past.
"It was a lot of double handing," Bowman said.
He said he's still waiting on a building permit for the project, but expects the new store to be open for the upcoming season.
Bowman estimated that the new store could cost up to $300,000.
Clifton Park expressed its support for Bowman Orchards’ plan to permanently preserve its land via a resolution passed during a recent Town Board Meeting.
At the same meeting, the town passed a resolution in support of a conservation effort for Maple Hill Farm, a 73-acre operation on Ashdown Road. Julie Swartz, one of the owners of that farm, confirmed that they were working with Saratoga PLAN to seek grant money, but declined to comment further on their plans.
"The competition is stiff," she said about the number of landowners vying for funding to conserve their property.
Trabka and Bowman suggested the town could be involved with the Bowman project, either as an owner of the easement or as a partner in the effort.
According to Town Supervisor Phil Barrett, purchasing the land depends on there being parties willing to take on the easement and making sure the land is being used appropriately.
“Farming is a challenging business, and it hasn’t become any easier,” Barrett said. “As far as the town is concerned, we do whatever possible to assist our larger landowners and our working farms to make sure they remain viable.”
Bowman confirmed the farm is working with Saratoga PLAN, as well as town open space groups and committees. He noted the process is still in the early stages, but if successful, the farm will be able to thrive.
“It’s a long-term process,” he said. “But we’ll be able to continue operations as they are.”