Agriculture, Open Space, and Natural Resources
GOAL: To preserve and protect the agricultural heritage, open spaces and natural resources that give Charlemont its historic rural character.
Charlemont has large areas of undeveloped land, including expansive meadows and parts of the Mohawk Trail State Forest. It has an agrarian economy and most of the landscape still has a rural character, which most townspeople wish to maintain. The Deerfield River and surrounding hills attract tourists and provide opportunity for recreation activities. The attractiveness of the place, as well as the accessibility and availability of developable land, presents a potential for residential and commercial development. The town must have the means to control potential development and to take action on future land-use patterns if it wishes to maintain the rural character and protect the town's natural resources.
Agriculture and forestry are an important part of the local economy in Charlemont. Currently, 14% of total land area in Charlemont is prime farmland, including other farmland of statewide importance (Charlemont Master Plan Background Document). Soil characteristics are suitable for both agriculture and a variety of urban uses. Potential development can occur in these areas because of their proximity to Route 2. Preservation of agricultural land and forests can help Charlemont to restrict development on these lands and in maintaining its rural character. Agricultural activities, if promoted, will also prevent dramatic changes in land use. By playing a stronger role in stabilizing and fostering active, productive farms, the town can achieve its goal of preserving rural character and agricultural heritage.
No municipal water system exists in Charlemont, and residents and businesses are solely dependent on groundwater wells for their water needs. Significant changes in land use and non-point source pollution in aquifer regions can affect both water quality and quantity. Hence, it is important to protect aquifer recharge areas not only from pollution but also from excessive development. Furthermore, local aquifers must be protected through various conservation measures by protecting perennial rivers and streams that intercept the water table.
Objective 1: Preserve productive forest and agricultural lands.
1.1 Work with the local Land Trust to provide information to the community about various land preservation options and inform landowners about the economic benefits of participating in programs such as Chapter 61 and 61A.
Land Trusts can explain the benefits of agricultural activity to the community and the ways in which it can support and encourage farming. They are equipped to educate farmers and to provide information to them about various land preservation programs. They also help landowners to understand the economic benefits of participation in programs such as Chapter 61 and 61A. Landowners can be encouraged to place conservation restrictions on their land to ensure that agricultural activities continue to take place. The Farmland Protection Program of the Natural Resource Conservation Service provides funds to communities to purchase development rights to farmland to preserve productive farmland for agricultural use. Under this program, the town can acquire conservation easements from landowners.
A town-wide soils map indicates the areas within a community that are uniquely suited for agriculture. The town must acquire this map from the Franklin County Planning Office and use it to consider existing and future land use policy in relation to agriculture and natural resources.
Objective 2: Promote agricultural uses and preserve working farms.
2.1 Work with farmers, the Department of Food and Agriculture and the FRCOG to identify ways to revitalize working farms and agricultural uses in town.
Charlemont must conduct a community-wide agricultural profile to identify current and potential farming activities. This will entail a process to inventory existing agricultural activity, active and inactive farmlands and ascertain public and farmers attitudes towards agricultural enterprises. It must then work with FRCOG to secure funding through various programs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Berkshire-Pioneer Resource Conservation and Development (RC & D) program covering the western and central counties in Massachusetts provides technical, financial and business assistance to farmers. It can assist farmers in setting up agro-based businesses, in finding new markets for their products, and in making agricultural production more efficient. Forest landowners can be encouraged to generate income by using agro-forestry techniques. The Farm Viability Enhancement Program of the Department of Food and Agriculture can assist farmers in strengthening their business skills and combining with diversification and environmental integrity. Making farming more profitable is likely to encourage owners of farmland to keep their farm and woodlands undeveloped. Entrepreneurial efforts involving on-farm processing of value added farm products and home based businesses will better support farms and encourage farmland owners to maintain active farms.
Objective 3: Identify and protect land critical to sustaining surface and groundwater quality and quantity.
3.1 Protect future drinking water supplies, floodplains and other environmentally sensitive areas through overlay districts or other regulatory approaches. Work with other towns dependent on the Deerfield River watershed for their water supply, recreational, and economic needs to protect areas in the basin and sub-basins of the Deerfield River and its tributaries.
The Deerfield River is not only a major tourist attraction, but is also critical in maintaining the groundwater levels. This requires that the watershed areas of the river be protected from environmental degradation and destruction. At present, the town has limited regulatory power to control any kind of development in these areas and thus a potential threat exists to such areas. The town must work with FRCOG and the Deerfield River Watershed Association and use existing maps to understand how much development can occur in these areas and the ways in which the town can control its future development. The town may consider establishing aquifer recharge and watershed overlay districts as regulatory tools to specify the nature of development in these areas.
The Wetlands Conservancy Program in the Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Wetlands and Waterways has developed "orthophoto" maps to accurately locate and delineate the state's wetland resources. They can provide an accurate planning scale inventory of the community's wetlands, highway infrastructure and real estate base. These maps can be used to delineate and regulate watershed areas that contribute to public and private drinking water wells. The Planning Board can use them for a complete assessment of developable land and to use it as a base for any type of zoning overlay district.
Objective 4: Protect key landscapes and environmentally critical unprotected open spaces.
4.1 Protect large areas of significant visual quality, including agricultural landscapes, forested hillsides and hilltops and environmentally sensitive areas through viewshed overlay zoning or other open space protection measures
4.2 Update Open Space Plan to help prioritize open space investments and to access funds from the state for open space protection and recreation. Investigate funding from the Deerfield River Watershed team.
Open space should be viewed as an asset to the community. It is possible to protect or increase the preservation of such landscapes by connecting them with trails. Some of these trails may already exist or new ones could be identified. Use of these trails for recreational purposes will encourage protection of these areas. The Greenways and Trails Demonstration Grants from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management provides funds for the creation and promotion of greenways and trail networks. The town must determine whether a view shed overlay district will assist it in regulating development in areas critical to maintaining the visual quality of these landscapes.
The town must work with the Franklin County Planning Office to update its Open Space Plan. This will help it to identify parcels that are critical to protecting open space. The town must explore protection of open spaces under the Governor's Land Conservation Initiative being carried out by the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA).