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STATE GRANT TO SHIELD FARMLAND FROM DEVELOPERS

New York state awarded $300,000 to Amherst on Tuesday to help the highly developed town protect more farmland.

Erie County's request for $37,500 was rejected.

"We must continue to do what we can to ensure a vital agricultural economy and a healthy environment in New York state," said Gov. Pataki, in announcing the grants.

Amherst's grant is less than what town officials had hoped to receive and is smaller than most of the other grants given to 10 other towns and counties across the state. Communities on Long Island received half of the total amount awarded because farmland there is under greater development pressure, state officials said.

Amherst officials said they are grateful for the $300,000, which is earmarked to buy development rights to farmland in north Amherst. Buying the development rights is crucial to preserving hundreds of acres of farmland around Tonawanda Creek, Hopkins and Schoelles roads, Amherst Council Member William L. Kindel said.

"I was hoping for more than that, but I'm delighted," said Kindel, a leading proponent of the town's farmland-protection program. "All I can do is thank the state. They're the ones who are making this possible."

Purchase of development rights means the land may only be farmed or left open by current and future owners. By selling their development rights, farmers or landowners who own farmland give up any chance of the land's being used for a strip mall or housing development.

In all, Pataki announced 11 grants worth $4.5 million. The money comes from the state's Environmental Protection Fund and the Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act.

"As a result of these grants, farmers will be able to work the land and not have to worry about development pressures," said John Lincoln, president of the New York Farm Bureau.

Amherst sought $1.5 million in grant money and had promised to contribute $375,000 in town money.

Last year, Pataki allocated $360,000 to Amherst to start buying the development rights to farmland. The town budgeted money last year to match that grant.

In December, the town paid two landowners almost $750,000 to preserve 215 acres as farmland. It was the first development-rights acquisition in Erie County and the first step toward preserving what Kindel calls north Amherst's "green belt."

The town worked with the Western New York Land Conservancy to obtain the development rights to the parcels, and the town plans to follow the same procedure to acquire the rights to more parcels with the new grant money, Kindel said.

For too long, farm parcels in north Amherst "waited in a holding pattern for developers to snatch them up," Kindel said.

Through the town's farmland protection program and with the state's financial assistance, "that's beginning to change," Kindel said. "We can save land now for future generations."

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