Whitehall-Coplay Press

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Preserving farmland in Whitehall

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 by AL RECKER Special to The Press in Local News

Township may acquire Mickley-Prydun Farmstead with help from county

Whitehall Township may partner with Lehigh County for the township to acquire a historic farm in the northern tier. The farmland preservation process is in keeping with the county’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.

The board of commissioners at its Monday workshop meeting listened to details regarding the project involving the Mickley-Prydun Farmstead at North Church and Spring streets. The wooded tract includes a barn and a log cabin and is sloped in some areas.

“It’s a win-win for the township,” Mayor Edward D. Hozza Jr. told The Press, following the presentation by Diane Matthews-Gehringer, Lehigh County director of farmland preservation, and Donna Wright, municipal outreach coordinator.

The next step is to have the township solicitor draw up the legal paperwork — an ordinance that would require two readings by commissioners at subsequent meetings before enactment — in order for the township to proceed with such an undertaking, Hozza said.

Although farmland preservation is not new in Lehigh County, Hozza said it is the first time for Whitehall.

“We need this. I hope the board considers this,” Commissioner Linda Snyder said.

There were questions posed by the board but no objections to such a partnership.

Regarding the farmland preservation process, applications are submitted to the Lehigh County Farmland Preservation Program by July 1. The forms are ranked with a land evaluation and site assessment. The ranking system considers soil quality (50 percent of the score), development potential (10 percent) and farmland potential and clustering potential (each 20 percent).

It was explained the value of a conservation easement is the difference between the fair market value of the farm — before value — and the value of the farm after it has been preserved — after value.

There is possible state, county and municipal funding available. The purchase example presented was for a 46.2-acre farm with an appraised $5,630-per-acre value. The total appraised easement value would be $260,106. The example showed the county paying one-third of the easement cost, $86,702 ($1,876.67 per acre), and the township paying two-thirds of the easement cost, $173,404 ($3,753.33 per acre).

“Our first goal is the Mickley Farm,” Hozza said of the township’s involvement in the farmland preservation program.