'Til The Cows Come Home

By Steve Jusseaume

Hampton Union, November 28, 2003

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON - The Hampton Conservation Commission has joined forces with the Rockingham County Conservation District (RCCD) and the state Trust for Public Land to propose the purchase of a conservation easement to save the last working dairy farm from development.

Officials from the three agencies presented the proposal to the Board of Selectmen this week, and got a generally positive response.

"I would like to be able to show my grandson a working farm with cows someday," said Selectman Cliff Pratt after the presentation.

Tracy Degnan of the RCCD, Julie Iffland of the public land trust and Ellen Goethel of the Hampton Conservation Commission laid out the plan to purchase the easement, which would protect 150 acres of the Hurd dairy farm from development.

The easement would cost Hampton taxpayers $3 million, funded through a 20-year bond. The Hurd family would retain possession of the land, though commercial or residential development would be prohibited on 150 acres of the 160-acre tract, located on the Hampton/Hampton Falls town line. One and one-half miles of the farm border the Taylor River. Two homesteads on the property and seven acres of land would be exempt from the conservation easement.

"Placing this land in conservation easement will restrict development and afford water protection along the river," explained Degnan, adding that because much of the land is within the wellhead protection zone, the easement would keep the land on the tax rolls, protect the drinking water supply, allow some public access for recreation and allow the farm to remain in operation.

"This is a good value to the town," Degnan said.

A warrant article will likely appear on next spring's warrant asking for the $3 million. The Conservation Commission has proposed $3 million warrant articles for land conservation twice in the past several years, only to be denied by voters. Some local opposition to past proposals centered on the lack of a specific plan for the money. But with this proposal, voters will know exactly what they are voting on.

A $3 million bond funded over 20 years would cost a homeowner with a house valued at $300,000 about $32.80 per year in taxes, Degnan and Iffland said: "The cost of a couple pizzas per year."

They argued that the costs associated with residential development of the land would far exceed the $3 million easement price, in terms of town services, such as education, and police and fire protection.

More than half the acreage is developable, and a "substantial number of homes" could be built, Degnan said.

The possibility also exists that the community could qualify for up to a $300,000 state grant to help pay for the easement and associated costs. In fact, board Chairman Brian Warburton signed the grant request this week.

Selectmen supported the proposal. Skip Sullivan noted that the Hurd farm is the one remaining working dairy farm in town, and Jim Workman noted the historical value in preserving what is left of the community's heritage.