Whittier Farm APR passes in landslide
BY JOSH FARNSWORTH
Sutton voters gave their overwhelming approval to fund an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) to preserve more than 300 acres of farmland through a debt exclusion last Tuesday.
The only question on the special election ballot passed 441-88. The town will become co-holder of 314 acres of land owned by Whittier Farms Inc. along portions of Town Farm Road and Douglas Road in Sutton. The town will pay their share of the APR agreement – $280,000 – to protect the space as farmland. Residents approved the special election at town meeting in October.
“The town supported something we were trying to do, so I am happy with the outcome,” said Wayne Whittier of Whittier Farms Inc. “They were willing to take on the burden.”
“I think this is a very positive vote for Sutton,” said Town Administrator Jim Smith. “With this, we move one step closer to preserving an important piece of Sutton history.”
Tuesday’s vote enables the town to purchase more than five acres of Whittier Farm for $24,000, to build a cell tower. With the land at the highest point in Sutton, the tower would help alleviate the sparse cell reception in the many parts of town. The purchase-andsale agreement is still contingent upon the state, town, and Whittier Farms closing the deal, which is expected to be finalized soon.
Smith said the tower – if constructed at an approximate height of 140 feet – would be capable of hosting four or five carriers, with each generating money for the town. The town will need to vote annually at town meeting to use revenues from the cell tower to offset the debt service from the debt exclusion vote.
A clause in the purchase agreement between the Whittiers and the town would revert the land to Whittier Farms in 20 years if the property is no longer used for a cell tower.
“The goal of the tower would be, at a minimum, to pay off the debt service of $280,000 used to protect the land,” said Smith. “It is very possible we may be able to generate enough funds from this to help fund the general budget, as well.”
Smith said he is currently working with a cell consultant on a bid request for prospective cell tower users. Smith has noted previously that he has been contacted by multiple cell carriers interested in serving
According to the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, an APR is a voluntary program that offers an alternative to owners of farmland who choose to see the property protected rather than sell it for development. The APR program offers to pay farmland owners the difference between the fair market and agricultural value of their property in exchange for a permanent deed restriction that prevents the land from ever being developed for anything other than a farm purpose.
Whittier Farms has been seeking an APR for 378 acres of land – 314 in Sutton and an additional 64 acres in Oxford. For Whittier, the vote comes after much pursuing and planning.
“It has been almost 20 months since we filed the application,” he said. “These things take time to work through the system. In the end, though, people came out and voted to let us know they are on board with it. People win cell phone coverage and open space as a result.”
Smith said the state is concluding its surveying of the area. There is no official closing date on the APR with the state, but he hopes it will happen in the next 60 days – possibly as soon as after Jan. 1.