Farmland Preservation History
The introductory meeting of what is now known as the Land Use Committee occurred on February 8, 2007. That meeting resulted in the formation of a task force charged with the duty of determining the best stewardship use of the 73.5 acres of our Church campus. The task force came to be known as the Land Use Committee. The mission statement of the Committee called us to be faithful stewards and good tenants of God’s land.
The Committee started with 15 very active enthusiastic members.
Initial members: Fred Appold, Marsha Barone, Rev. Dr. Deborah Rahn-Clemens, Ben Fox, Conrad Fisher, Bob Gery, Ed George, Betty Hildenbrand, Kim Jacobs, Darryl Nester, Mary Schueck, Dave Schuler, and Barry Tomlinson. Melissa Jamison and Chris Weikel joined the committee in early summer.
Initially the Committee explored 3 directions:
Land Preservation (development rights purchased) – Land Trust, County Open Space, Farmland Preservation
Retirement and nursing facility
Continue as is with property rented for farm crops
May 8, 2007, Rev. Kenneth V. Daniel, Vice-President Senior Living Services at Phoebe Home, met with the Committee. He reviewed the history between our Church and Phoebe Home as well as the possibility of a joint venture between us that would provide for a nursing home facility on the property.
The Committee reviewed the information presented by Phoebe Home and sent a letter to him with Committee questions and concerns. In order to have a better understanding of this type of development, members of the Committee visited Phoebe Berks located at Wernersville, Homestead Village in Lancaster, and Church of the Apostles UCC in Lancaster.
In August 2007 Andrew Frankenfield, Extension Agent, Agricultural Sciences, from Montgomery County Cooperative Extension of Pennsylvania State University presented several Agricultural opportunities for us to consider on our site. He explained different types of farming, marketing, and product considerations.
Mr. Frankenfield also reviewed Farmland Preservation. In a Farmland Preservation, the County buys agricultural easement from farmers/owners (in this case New Goshenhoppen United Church of Christ) in Montgomery County. When easement rights are sold, the owner keeps the land but no longer has the right to build nonagricultural buildings. Owners can build one house and keep farming in perpetuity. The owner may sell the property, but the new owner must continue to grow productive crops or keep the land as a pasture. He explained how properties are chosen, payment for easement, and process time. Other uses discussed with Mr. Frankenfield included a community garden, corn maze, and environmental education.
In October 2007 five members of the Committee attended an Open Space Workshop and dinner meeting at Perkiomen School. Also in October 2007 three members of the Committee attended a Regional Planning Perk Up Meeting at the Chamber of Commerce.
In 2008 the committee met with Jake Lea, Director of Land Trust in Montgomery County, to discuss Open Space Programs. A Conservation Plan is needed for preservation. The Committee unanimously voted to proceed with a plan. We also met with Elizabeth Emlen, Senior Farmland Preservation Administrator, to discuss Farmland Preservation with the Committee.
At our July 2008 meeting we met with Kevin O’Donald from Villanova Arboretum to discuss Arboretum possibilities on our Church campus. Four options have been examined: keep farmland as it is with no change; open space and farmland preservation; retirement community; and real estate development. The Committee carefully examined the advantages and disadvantages of the options. After much deliberation, the consensus of the Committee was that Open Space and Preservation would be the best option and in keeping with our Church cultural and spiritual heritage. With that said, several further ideas sprung out for us to explore. These included preservation of our farmland; educational opportunities; community garden concepts; spiritual center; development of a hiking trail; and an Arboretum. Subcommittees with chairpersons were formed at our November 2008 meeting to focus on each of these options.
By the end of 2008, the 15 member Committee had met 18 times since their initial February 8, 2007 meeting. The Chairperson of each subcommittee formed at our November 2008 meeting gave a report to the Land Use Committee at our January, 20, 2009 meeting. The detail researched and presented by these subcommittees was extraordinary. Groups made field trips, had many phone conversations with various county officials, and meetings with a master gardener just to name a few.
Further research included meeting with Upper Hanover Township regarding a hiking trail and Mr. Niehls, the farmer that leased our farmland. Mr. Niehls leased 53 acres of our 73.5 acres. In July 2009 we met with Marilyn Anthony, Southeast Regional Directory of Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA). She spoke about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). A sub-committee to explore CSA possibilities was formed and report back their findings to the Land Use Committee. In August 2009 Elizabeth Emlen, Senior Farmland Preservation Administrator, and Beth Piling, Senior Planner for Montgomery County, joined our meeting to explain in more detail Farmland Preservation and Open Space Programs. At our September 15th 2009 meeting, with 12 Land Use Committee members present, the Committee unanimously voted to focus our efforts in pursuing Farmland Preservation for the entire 73.5 acre parcel. The decision did not come lightly.
The Committee felt this option was the best stewardship for the property because the Church retains ownership of the land and decides who has access to the property. That means Mr. Niehls could continue to farm the property and we permanently protect the property for future generations. Selecting Farmland Preservation does not eliminate the use of developing a hiking trail, arboretum, spiritual center, and/or educational opportunities. If we decided to pursue an Open Space Program, public access would be required. We thought that option was less attractive. Part of the approval process includes the development of a Conservation Plan. Several committee members devoted many hours meeting with Dave Schaffer, Supervisory District Conservationist, and Mr. Niehls, to develop and finalize a Conservation Plan.
In order to show our interest and improve our standing for Farmland Preservation approval, we filed an application with Montgomery County. If the application was approved, the County would conduct an appraisal of the 73.5 acres. After an appraisal was completed and all necessary details were received and approved by our Church’s Consistory, the Congregation would then be asked to review the findings and vote to make the final decision on Land Preservation.
By the close of 2009, the group had grown to 18 members and we had met 26 times since our first meeting in February 2007.
On Tuesday, March 9, 2010, members of the Land Use Committee met with the Farmland Preservation Board in Norristown along with several members of the Planning Commission. The purpose of the meeting was to review applications received by the Farmland Preservation Board and score each property. The Board then selected the properties with the highest scores, proceeded with an appraisal and further discussions with the property owners regarding preservation of the selected properties. The Board seemed very impressed with our presentation made by Barry Tomlinson, Esquire, and expressed positive feedback on our Conservation Plan. Then the wait began. It would take several months before a reply would be returned from the Farmland Preservation Board.
Although the Land Use Committee had decided to focus their efforts in the direction of Farmland Preservation, Committee members continued examining uses for the Property. On March 24, 2010 members of the Committee met with Andrew Frankenfield, Extension Agent for Agricultural Sciences from Montgomery County Cooperative Extension of the Pennsylvania State University to discuss CSA opportunities. On April 29, 2010 members of the Committee met with Lloyd Casey, Principal Forester at Casey’s Forestry. His presentation on Forest Stewardship was very informative.
Barry Tomlinson, Esquire, was informed by Elizabeth Emlen and the Farmland Preservation Board Chairperson that they were strongly considering making an offer to New Goshenhoppen United Church of Christ. A special Land Use Committee meeting was called on August 22nd, 2010 with an urgent request that all members attend. The County was prepared to make an offer to preserve the 73.5 acres of our Church campus in a Farmland Preservation Easement, if the Church is interested in doing so.
There were three steps that had to occur for a final decision from New Goshenhoppen United Church of Christ:
1. Land Use Committee needed to call a meeting to review the information from the County and make a recommendation to Consistory
2. Land Use Committed needed to meet with the Church Consistory to present the information and recommendation, and
3. The information then needed to be presented to the Congregation for a final decision.
The Church would have 30 days to respond to the offer from the County beginning on the date of the offer letter. Further, the County would need to have a fully executed agreement by all parties, no later than the end of December 2010. Upon receipt of the formal written offer from the County, the Church has 3 options: (1) to accept; (2) to decline; or (3) request 120 days to procure our own independent appraisal.
After much discussion, the Committee unanimously voted to respond yes to Elizabeth Emlen – the Church was indeed interested. The second decision was a unanimous yes to recommend Consistory approve the third option described above requesting 120 days for the Church to procure their own appraisal. Lastly, the Committee unanimously approved recommending to Consistory that we hire our own independent appraiser.
Consistory was called together August 28th, 2010 for a special meeting to hear from the Land Use Committee on the status of our Farmland Preservation application. Barry Tomlinson, Esquire, reported to Consistory that New Goshenhoppen United Church of Christ is one of two farms under consideration by Montgomery County for the Farmland Preservation classification. As part of the process, a government appraisal was completed on the 73.5 acre parcel. The County’s appraisal indicated Fair Market Value of $1,424,533. The Agricultural Fair Market Value was $486,408. The amount of the offer, should it be made by the County, would be $938,125. This figure represents the difference between the current development and agricultural fair market values. Barry Tomlinson, Esquire, emphasized that there had been dialog between he and Elizabeth Emlen, but no offer has yet been made. He explained the three options as covered above in the event a written offer is received.
After several questions were discussed, Consistory approved that should the offer be made, the Church would request a 120 day extension to respond to the offer for the purpose of conducting an independent appraisal and secondly, Consistory approved a private appraisal to be ordered in the event it was needed.
On September 20, 2010 the Church received a written offer from Montgomery County Agricultural Land Preservation Board. The offer, as expected, totaled $938,125. On September 27, 2010 the Church ordered an appraisal from Appraiser, Joe Procak. On September 30, 2010 the Church responded in writing to the Montgomery County Agricultural Land Preservation Board informing the Board of our election to request a 120 day extension in order that we may obtain an independent appraisal. The independent appraisal received confirmed that the County’s offer was fair. At the New Goshenhoppen United Church of Christ Congregational meeting held on November 14, 2010, both the Land Use Committee and Consistory recommended that the Congregation accept the County’s offer of $938,125. Price per acre was $12,710. The exact price would be determined by a survey conducted by the County.
Under Farmland Preservation:
The County buys an agricultural easement. The Church remains the owner of the 73 acres.
The property is farmed in perpetuity.
The land can still be used for devotional site, arboretum, agricultural ventures, educational and historical ventures, and any other activity not restricted by the easement.
A public hiking trail easement cannot be entered into.
The Congregation voted 153 Yes to 2 No’s to accept the offer received by Montgomery County Agricultural Land Preservation Board. The agreement was signed by Donna Fried, Consistory President, on December 6, 2010. Subsequently the County signed the agreement and ordered the survey.
The Farmland Preservation settlement was finalized with Montgomery County on Monday, August 22, 2011. The final check disbursed was in the amount of $940,763.67.
We wish to recognize the hard work of the members of the Land Use Committee:
Fred Appold, Brad Adam, Marcia Barone, Shannan Bieler, Rev. Dr. Deborah Rahn-Clemens, Conrad Fisher, Ben Fox, Donna Fried, Ed George, Bob Gery, Betty Hildenbrand, Kim Jacobs, Darryl Nester, Mary Schueck, Dave Schuler, Chris Weikel, and Donna Wright. Barry Tomlinson, Esquire, and Melissa A. Jamison, Co-Chairperson.
It is extraordinary that this Committee stayed together as a team enthusiastically working together as we explored the many opportunities for our Church campus. The task commissioned by this Land Use Task Force was completed. Committee members, however, did not want to see the task force disbanded. Consistory elected to change this task force into a standing committee.
The following is the new mission statement adopted by the new Land Use Committee:
“The purpose of the Land Use Committee is to promote and encourage programs and activities involving educational and devotional opportunities, forestry and wildlife management, Arboretum, agricultural, and any other activity permitted by zoning and not restricted by the Montgomery County Farmland Preservation Easement. Our mission is to be faithful stewards of “God’s Gift” (Gottes Geschenk), our Church Campus.”