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It is likely that the thousands of visitors who have trod through the seasonal corn maze at the Paproski family’s Castle Hill Farm over the years had no clue about the value of the dirt under their feet — until now.
According to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, that dirt is worth more than $1 million. So on November 7, the Board of Selectmen unanimously agreed to enter into a partnership with the state to ensure that unique agricultural soil is preserved for the foreseeable future.
The selectmen’s action authorized tapping two years worth of open space funding earmarked in the current Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to underwrite 45 percent, or $450,450 of a $1,001,100 payment to the local family to obtain an agricultural easement on about 65 acres of the Paproski’s 94-plus-acre parcel just off Sugar Street.
Newtown Deputy Director of Planning & Land Use Rob Sibley laid out the proposal to selectmen this week, explaining that the state Department of Agriculture has determined through geological mapping that Castle Hill Farm possesses soil with unique qualities that permit it to absorb particular nutrients, hold those nutrients over time, and release them.
Following the meeting, Mr Sibley confirmed that these soil qualities are optimal for agricultural uses, and viewed by the state as high priority for preserving
“This is the kind of soil you want to have for farming,” he said.
During the official’s presentation to selectmen, Mr Sibley reviewed some key historical points about the local farm. He said the farmland has been listed as a goal for agricultural preservation in the Newtown Plan of Conservation and Developments since 1993; was listed in the local “View Sheds of Newtown” since 1999; and has been prioritized for acquisition as open space since 2008.
To that end, the town signed a cooperative agreement in 2015 with the state to enter into joint partnership of the Farmland Preservation Program as recommended by the local Conservation Commission. Soon after, the Department of Agriculture (CTDoA) reviewed the property and acquired an appraisal to negotiate the easement value.
Just over a year ago, the CTDoA prepared an offer to the Paproskis to purchase the proposed easement, along with terms for payment. The town agreed to partner with CTDoA to purchase the easement for Castle Hill Farm earlier this year.
Given the lead time, First Selectman Pat Llodra said she was able to combine what was two separate earmarked expenditures in the CIP in the 2016 and 2017 fiscal cycles to ensure there was enough proposed bonding available this year if the proposal came to fruition.
Mr Sibley said the current proposal stipulates that the Paproski family must remain as residents on the farm, that the property must remain an active agricultural enterprise, and that all requirements related to the contract must be completed no later than March 31, 2017. He also said that there is a strong possibility the US Department of Agriculture could offset the town and state’s investment in the easement with a grant of up to 50 percent of the total cost.
The pending expenditure also needs to be approved by Newtown’s Board of Finance and Legislative Council.
Mrs Llodra said the proposal presents an exciting opportunity for both the town and the Paproski family. The first selectman said she would discuss the parameters of the bonding proposal with the town finance director, and will have more details available by the end of November.
The farm, which has been in continuous operation since 1927 by the family, is a popular destination for visitors and families from the tri-state region and beyond, hosting hayrides, events, bonfires, weddings, pumpkin picking, and a seasonal stand featuring fruits and vegetables produced on the property. They also operate a separate tree farm on Hattertown Road
The Paproskis reserved comment on the proposal until contracts were completed and approved.