As part of the Comprehensive Planning Process, a thorough evaluation of Agricultural uses, their contribution to the local economy and quality of life, was prepared by the Agriculture Subcommittee, and the Chatham Agricultural Partnership (CAP).
The first step in this evaluation was the identification of all of the agricultural uses in the town. Beginning with the property class information contained in the GIS database, farm class parcels were mapped. This map was then used in a number of public events and committee meetings to further identify farmland that is owned by, or leased to a farmer, and is in active agricultural use. One of the committee members also reviewed the data, and added a number of horse farms that were then added to the database. The result was a complete inventory of agricultural uses in Chatham.
The second step in the process, was the prioritization of the identified agricultural uses. Knowing that funds and human resources are limited, some kind of ranking system needs to be employed to ensure that those farms that are protected or preserved have the most positive impact in advancing the goals outlined in Chatham’s comprehensive plan.
Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) for Chatham
Land Evaluation and Site Assessment, also referred to as LESA, is a tool to help citizens and local officials to prioritize those lands that should be protected from conversion to nonagricultural uses. LESA was developed by the United States Natural Resources Conservation Service, and is based on a technique developed in Orange County in 1971 (the first place it was used in the United States.)
LESA has a long history of use in New York, and throughout the United States. It is basically a rating system designed with local conditions and needs in mind. It is a tool that can help local officials identify farmlands needing protection by taking into account soil quality and other factors that affect agricultural practices. LESA is an analytical tool. It is not a regulatory program.
LESA’s role in Chatham is to provide a systematic and objective procedure to rate and rank sites in order to help people make decisions on where to target farmland protection programs. A LESA system can be useful to answer questions such as what lands are most appropriate to designate for long-term continuation in agricultural uses, and which farms should be given the highest priority for purchase of development rights monies.
How LESA Works
LESA is a rating system. The LESA system combines soil quality factors with other factors that affect the importance of the site for continued agriculture. Soil quality factors are considered Land Evaluation Factors (LE). The other factors are considered Site Assessment Factors (SA). The SA factors include non-soil factors that measure enhancements to, or limitations to agricultural productivity or farm practices; factors that measure development pressure or land conversion; and factors that measure other public values such as protection of water resources.
The following SA factors were incorporated into Chatham’s LESA system, in addition to the soil factors:
- Adjacent farmland
- Access to a major transportation corridor
- Sensitive water features on the parcel
- Adjacent land that is already protected or preserved in some way
- Area of the parcel that is being actively used for farming
State Funding Criteria
Priority is given for funding under the State Program where:
- Viable agricultural land is preserved (viable is defined as “land highly suitable for agricultural production and which will continue to be economically feasible for such use if real property taxes, farm use restrictions, and speculative activities are limited to levels approximating those in commercial agricultural areas not influenced by the proximity of non-agricultural development”);
- Locations that are facing significant development pressure; and
- Locations that serve as a buffer for a significant natural public resource containing important ecosystem or habitat characteristics.
Consideration is also given to:
- The number of acres that will be protected;
- The quality of the soil resources involved;
- The percentage of the total farm acreage available for agricultural production;
- The extent to which the property is bordered by or proximity to other farms which are already protected by a conservation easement or which might reasonably be expected to enter into a farmland preservation agreement in the future;
- The level of farm management that is demonstrated by the current landowner;
- The likelihood of the property’s succession as a farm if the present ownership changes.
Federal Program Eligibility
In order to be eligible for federal funding for conservation easements, the property must have:
- Prime, unique, statewide, or locally important soil or contain historical or archaeological resources. Farms must contain at least 50% of prime, unique, statewide, or locally important soils. Eligible historical or archaeological parcels must be on a farm listed on the National Register of Historic Places, or formally determined eligible for listing by the State Historic Preservation Officer, or formally designated by the State or Tribal Historic Preservation Officer.
- Cropland, grassland, pasture land, and incidental forestland and wetlands that are part of an agricultural operation. Farms must be in compliance with federal wetland conservation and highly erodable land provisions.
Ranking for Prioritizing Agriculture Protection Efforts
How the calculations were performed, and the final rankings were arrived at:
(Version 2 of the Ranking for Prioritizing Agriculture Protection Efforts map)
Prime Farmland and State Significant Soils on the parcel
One half of the total percentage of Prime Farmland Soils, or Soils of Statewide Significance found on the property was used as the score
Amount of adjacent farmland
- If over 70% of the land area within one-half mile of the property is also farmland, a score of 15 was given
- If between 33 and 70% of the land area within one-half mile of the property is also farmland, a score of 10 was given
- If between 10 and 33% of the land area within one-half mile of the property is also farmland, a score of 5 was given
Access to Major Transportation Corridor (I-90 or Taconic State Parkway)
If the property is within 2 miles of an exit of the Taconic State Parkway, or Interstate 90, a score of 10 was given
Percent of sensitive water features on the parcel
- If over 25% of the property is in a flood plain, or within 100 feet of a lake, pond, stream, or wetland, a score of 5 was given
- If between 5 and 25% of the property is in a flood plain, or within 100 feet of a water body, stream, or wetland, a score of 2 was given
Amount of adjacent land that is protected or preserved in some way
- If over 20% of the land area within one-half mile is already protected or preserved in some way, a score of 10 was given
- If between 1 and 20% of the land area within one-half mile is already protected or preserved in some way, a score of 5 was given
Percent of the parcel that is being actively used for farming
- If the actively farmed area of the parcel is over 50 acres in size, a score of 10 was given
- If the actively farmed area of the parcel is between 25 and 50 acres, a score of 5 was given
The total score was added up for each property evaluated. The higher the score, the higher the priority would be for that property to be kept as farmland.