Some of Eden's most prominent farming families renewed their call Wednesday for the town to lift what they say is an unfair restriction on the sale of land in a 1,200-acre region of of prime Eden Valley farmland.
At issue is a special agricultural preservation area that imposes restrictions on land sales. This was the primary focus of the public input session on a new comprehensive plan that the town is designing after a previous attempt to craft a master plan fizzled in 1996.
Farmer David Zittel of Amos Zittel & Sons said farmers are looking for equality or some sort of compensation in the differences between what's considered a regular agricultural district and the more restrictive agricultural preservation overlay designation.
The issue has dragged on for years and three years ago, many Eden Valley farmers signed a petition asking the town to get rid of the the special district.
"There's a lot more pressure on farmers to realize some economic return when you try to sell farmland," said dairy farmer William Feasley, a former supervisor.
"Some of the farmers are starting to retire or don't want to farm (anymore), and some of the lots are too small for bigger farms," said farmer Zittel, chairman of the Agricultural Advisory Committee. "Now, they're stuck with a 20-acre lot that's unsellable because it's in the (agricultural preservation district)."
Retired farmer Walter J. Henry said he wants to see "all lands in the town treated equitably, no matter what the soil is," and urged town officials to consider the physical attributes of land, soil types and the slopes of land in determining lot sizes.
In the late 1970s, the town ruled that if preservation-area farmers want to sell land to someone building a home, the lot must be a minimum of 30 acres and be on an active, operating farm. But on farmland in the town's regular agricultural district, which borders the preservation area, a 4-acre rule applies for a new home site.
The restriction was crafted to address concerns about a potential residential building boom. But Eden didn't develop quickly as many thought it would, and developers were not willing to pay development rights for higher-density land. So, the issue of transfer development rights was "pretty much a failure," Feasley said.
Town planner/engineer Andrew Reilly, who is the town's hired consultant for the master plan, emphasized the importance of farmland preservation to Eden.
"It's a way of life out here, but how you accomplish (that preservation) is another issue," he said.
Roughly 60 percent of the town's land is classified as agricultural or open green space.
Gerald Mammoser of East Eden questioned how the town would explain the costs associated with agricultural preservation.
"People want open space, but nobody knows how much it's going to cost to do this," he said. "How are you going to market this and put it all in perspective to make people understand that taxes will go up in the short term, but they will benefit in the long run?"