Deal to preserve farm near Saratoga Lake finally finished
Funding comes to buy development rights
SARATOGA A farm in the countryside east of Saratoga Lake will remain open land forever under a deal struck six years ago that has finally become a reality.
The town of Saratoga on Thursday signed paperwork to pay $1.3 million for the development rights to 390 acres on Cedar Bluff and Wayville roads owned by John and Barbara Hoogeveen, using money from New York state and Saratoga County.
The transaction means the land can never been developed for uses other than agriculture. The Hoogeveens, who are in their 80s, are retired from farming and plan to sell the farmland at a lower price because of the new restrictions on it to local dairy farmers Marty and Pat Hanehan.
The Hanehan brothers have rented the Hoogeveen farm since 2000 and currently keep heifers and dry cows — ones that don’t require milking — in the former dairy barn. They also grow corn, alfalfa and other crops on the land.
“They’re very familiar with what they are getting,” John Hoogeveen said.
The purchase of development rights deal signed Thursday at Saratoga Town Hall in Schuylerville was the final pending transaction for the county’s land preservation program.
The county ended its $500,000-per-year land preservation program in 2012 because of budget pressures. The state, meanwhile, has not been accepting new applications for farmland funding while it catches up with a backlog of projects that were approved but unfunded like the Hoogeveens’.
Thursday’s closing became possible after Gov. Andrew Cuomo in November released $987,268 in funding the state approved in 2008 that wasn’t appropriated during the years of the state’s financial crisis. The county put in $328,000 as the local share of the deal.
The state’s agreement in 2008 was to pay about $2 million for the development rights, but the state then significantly reduced the grant, as it has with other farm protection grants, after the recession reduced land values.
When Cuomo released the funding, he said farmland protection efforts to date have secured the development rights to 51,000 acres across the state.
“These grants are helping to ensure that thousands of acres of farmland remain in production, which helps local economies grow and supports a way of life for future generations of farmers and their families,” Cuomo said.
With the latest deal, Saratoga County has preserved or helped to preserve 2,300 acres of farmland, said County Planner Jaime O’Neill.
“We’ve been able to use federal, state and county resources to really leverage a lot,” she said.
The Hoogeveen farm is in a rural section of Saratoga with many farms, but O’Neill said the farm was nevertheless feeling development pressure. The deal to buy the development rights first began to come together after the Hoogeveens were approached by a developer, whom they turned down.
“It’s kind of a good farming corridor, but it’s close to the lake and it’s close to Stillwater, and as you get down into Stillwater you see more houses and subdivisions popping up,” O’Neill said.
Saratoga Town Supervisor Thomas N. Wood said he’s pleased that open space is being preserved.
“It’s very prime agricultural land, and I’m very glad to see that it will remain in agricultural production,” he said.
The Hoogeveens are natives of the Netherlands. They both grew up on farms and saw the trauma of World War II during their youths. They came to the United States in 1952 and bought their farm from a retiring farmer in 1961.
The Hoogeveens milked as many as 130 cows while John Hoogeveen actively ran the farm, from 1961 to 1989. Their son then operated the farm until 1999, when he decided to leave the business. The Hanehan brothers have rented the property since 2000.
The couple, who have a house on a building lot subdivided from the farm, said they’re glad their farm will continue.
“He’s a farmer deep down in his heart,” Barbara Hoogeveen said of her husband.
There are no other farm preservation projects on the immediate horizon in Saratoga County, which for decades has seen farms slowly give way to housing subdivisions.
Wood, a former chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said he hopes the county will eventually resume providing money for preservation projects, as it did from 2003 to 2011. Over that time, the county spent $4.9 million to buy parkland or preserve farms, securing additional state funding for five farmland projects.
“Maybe in a couple of years, if the county’s finances turn around,” Wood said.
O’Neill continues to discuss the idea of buying development rights from farmers, even though there’s no immediate promise of further funding.
“I’m in the process of speaking to people,” she said. “It’s a large decision and a big learning curve for the landowners.”