It was a full house at Simsbury Town Hall's main meeting room Monday night as residents gathered to share thoughts on the possible sale of Pharos Farm to a local farmer. So full, in fact, fire code forced some in attendance to leave the room.
The Town of Simsbury is considering selling Pharos Farm, a 40 acre parcel of agricultural land, to local farmer George Hall in a coordinated effort with the Simsbury Land Trust to secure an agricultural easement on that property and a 10.6 acre property owned by Hall.
Chuck Howard, president of the Simsbury Land Trust, was present at Monday's meeting to explain the complicated deal that has been presented.
Part of the mission of the Simsbury Land Trust is to preserve open space including land used for agricultural purposes. The trust has played a major role in the preservation of Simsbury agricultural properties like Tulmeadow Farm and Rosedale Farm in recent years, Howard explained.
The trust aims to protect both parcels of land farmed by Hall in order to preserve them for future agricultural use.
"He has added a great deal of value to the property," Howard said.
The Hall family has farmed in Simsbury for nearly 120 years and George Hall has been cultivating a successful organic farm for the past 40 years. Hall was present at the meeting and sat quietly as the crowded room discussed the future of his farm.
In order to secure federal grant funding for the purchase of the land, the trust has had to facilitate a deal between the town and George Hall. Town-owned property will not qualify for the grant nor would Hall's 10.6 acre farm which is under the required number of acreage.
If the town agrees to sell Pharos Farm to George Hall for $480,000 the trust can apply for a federal grant for the combined 40 acre and 10.6 acre parcels and pay George Hall an estimated $550,000 for an agricultural easement on both properties.
More than a dozen people spoke at Monday night's public hearing. Most were in favor of the sale but some expressed concerns and some confusion about the deal.
One resident said the deal seemed too complicated and unneccessary. Others were concerned that the town did not open the deal to bids.
The majority of residents, however, spoke in favor of the deal citing agricultural value and historical preservation among the benefits of selling the property.
“Terry’s Plain is actually the first place in Simsbury that was settled,” Kevin Grey, president of the Simsbury Historical Society said. Terry's Plain is the region of Simsbury where Pharos Farm is located.
"George Hall Farm actually produces food that we eat," resident Holly Beum said. Beum said a similar missed opportunity led her hometown of Westerville, Ohio to be a town without farms or open space.
Don Tuller, owner of Tulmeadow Farm, also voiced strong support of the sale.
"This really is a moment. And I'm a big fan of the town divesting itself of as much working farmland as it can," Tuller said.
The Simsbury Board of Selectmen will take the views expressed during Monday night's hearing into consideration when considering approval of a resolution when it is presented. Residents who still wish to share their thoughts on the sale can send a letter to town hall.
The board will wait to make a decision on the sale of Pharos Farm until an independent appraisal has been conducted to determine to value of the land.
Simsbury Patch will continue to provide updates on this story as it progresses.