Guilford agriculture panel unveils plan

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
July 3, 2008

GUILFORD — The Agricultural Commission offered town officials a look at its first major project at a workshop with the Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday.

Members of the 2-year-old Agricultural Commission, the first in the state, discussed their recommendations on amending the town zoning code to improve conditions for farmers.

The recommendations come out of a state agricultural viability grant that the commission received more than a year ago. The commission hired American Farmland Trust to survey the town’s ordinances concerning agriculture and highlight any problems or inconsistencies.

The commission and American Farmland Trust also held two listening sessions, one specifically for farmers and one for the general public, to gauge town opinion on the subject.

Agricultural Commission Chairman Tom Pinchbeck said this week that the goal is to make the town’s ordinances more comprehensible for farmers, and more enforceable for town agencies.

“Over the years, there have been issues … so the town comes in and puts in these patches and makes little changes, so it’s become a very difficult, convoluted code,” Pinchbeck said. “We’re trying to make it more streamlined, more understandable, and to make it make sense form the agricultural point of view.”

The six zoning-related recommendations include consolidating agricultural regulations in the town’s zoning code, changing the code’s current definitions of “farm” and “farming” and increasing the products farmers can sell at farm stands.

All six recommendations would require action by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Planning and Zoning commissioners focused on the recommendation dealing with livestock, which creates a distinction between commercial and non-commercial farms. The document states that current regulations do not include such a distinction and “appear to be overly restrictive for certain farms.”

According to the commission’s regulations, noncommercial farms — those under 3 acres and earning less than $2,500 per year — would have limits set for the number of livestock allowed per acre, while commercial farms would be subject to the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Manual of Best Management Practices for Agriculture.

“I think encouraging agriculture and encouraging commercial agriculture are good goals,” Commissioner Noel Hanf said. “We just need to think about how it gets administered.”

The recommendations also included three items that do not fall under the Planning and Zoning Commission’s authority. They suggest the town adopt an optional tax abatement for certain types of “priority farms,” lease available town land to farmers and update the Plan of Conservation and Development to include a greater focus on farms.

Pinchbeck said the commission’s hope is that the changes would help farmers stay in Guilford. He recently announced that his business, Pinchbeck Roses, will soon close due to competition from overseas markets.

“It’s trying to make the code more farmer-friendly,” he said. “Is that what’s going to make or break some guy moving to Guilford? I don’t know, but somewhere down the line, it might, or probably will.”

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