Fieldstone Farm Project

Frequently Asked Questions

What and where is Fieldstone Farm (aka Smith Farm)?

The 270-acre Fieldstone Farm is located on both sides of Rte. 62, about ½ mile west of the center of Princeton. With its beautiful stone walls and expansive fields, the land is highly visible and is one of the oldest farms in Princeton, having been in production for over 200 years. This land is a diverse mix of forest, meadows, hayfields, streams, ponds and marsh, providing important habitat for many native species and ample opportunity for a wide range of outdoor recreational activities. It is also identified as the top priority for protection in Princeton’s Open Space Plan.

What is the Fieldstone Farm Protection Project?

The Smith family, who have owned the land since the 1940’s, has decided it is time to sell. The farm could easily be divided into more than two dozen house lots with frontage on existing roads, and left to market forces, this would probably be its fate.

The Fieldstone Farm Protection Project is an effort to reach an alternative result by preserving much of this land for conservation and public use. The project is led by a partnership of three organizations: Princeton Land Trust, Mass Audubon and the Princeton Conservation Commission.

Why save it?

There are many reasons:

  • To preserve the rural character of Princeton and its agricultural heritage
  • To meet Princeton Town Plan goals of protecting scenic landscapes and open meadows
  • To keep farm fields and their high quality soils in agricultural production
  • To secure public access and recreational opportunities for the public
  • To protect a wide diversity of wildlife habitats

How much will it cost?

The purchase price agreed to with the Smith family is $3 million. Another $100,000 will be needed for associated expenses (legal fees, appraisals, surveys, environmental testing, perc testing, and other direct costs), for a total project cost of $3.1 million. To give us time to line up partners and find the funds needed, Mass Audubon and the Princeton Land Trust acquired an option in June that grants us the exclusive right to buy the property for $3 million by the end of June, 2016.

How will the farm be protected?

The $3.1 million cost is more than any one party can afford, so we developed a plan and assembled a partnership of conservation-minded organizations, public agencies, and private donors to raise the funds. As currently envisioned, the protection effort involves the following:

  • Purchase by the Town of Princeton of approximately 132 acres of land for conservation and public use, and a conservation restriction on another 32 acres. The town applied for a $400,000 LAND (Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity) grant from the state to help fund its purchase.
  • Purchase by the Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation and by the City of Worcester, acting together, of a conservation restriction protecting most of the land proposed for purchase by the town. This helps spread the cost of protecting the property among several partners.
  • Purchase of an Agricultural Preservation Restriction by the state on the 60 acres of fields and woodlands that comprise the core of the farm along Route 62, and purchase of the protected farmland by a private farmer.
  • Purchase by Mass Audubon and the Princeton Land Trust of approximately 38 acres for conservation and public use in the northern part of the farm.
  • Sale of up to four parcels for development, including the farmstead, totaling 35 acres.

See a map depicting the proposed conservation plan.

Will there be a development component?

Probably. To help finance the project and also provide a balance of housing and conservation, four parcels have been identified that we believe can be developed without compromising the conservation, agricultural, and scenic qualities that we’re trying to protect. One is the farmstead itself, with its farmhouse, garage, and other outbuildings. Three other parcels, totaling 31 acres, are currently being explored for their development potential. Traditional single family development is most likely, but we are also exploring more creative options. In addition we are discussing with the Selectmen whether any of the parcels would be suitable to meet other town needs.

How did you reach the $3 million purchase price?

We negotiated with the Smith family for several years; we started lower, and they started much higher. In 2014 the owners informted us that they would start to carve up the property and sell off lots in 2015 unless we reached agreement soon. In December 2014 an appraiser estimated the value of the farm’s major components at $2.74 million. Ultimately $3 million was the number needed to reach agreement with the family and give us the opportunity to preserve these fields and woods.

To the extent a premium is being paid for this land, it is Mass Audubon and the Princeton Land Trust that are paying a premium. The town and other public partners are being asked to pay no more than appraised value for the parcels they are acquiring, and often less.

What steps has the Town taken to support this effort?

On December 15th, Princeton Town Meeting voted with over 2/3 vote (241 yes to 94 no) to appropriate $650,000 for the purchase of portions of the farm for conservation. The appropriation is conditioned on receipt of the $400,000 from state grant that has now been officially awarded to the town, so the net cost to the town will not exceed $250,000. Because the town will borrow money to fund the acquisition, Town Meeting needed to approve the purchase by a two-thirds majority.

Since Town Meeting approved the acquistion, a town-wide vote was held to approve exempting the borrowing from Proposition 2½. This debt-exclusion applies only to this appropriation, and does not allow the town to raise taxes above Prop 2½ limits for other purposes. This vote required a simple majority to pass and it did. (347 yes, 267 no).

What will the town and its residents get in return?

The town’s appropriation will be used to purchase:

  • approximately 132 acres of land to be held and managed by the Conservation Commission for conservation purposes and public use; and
  • a conservation restriction on an additional 32 acres that will be owned and managed by the Princeton Land Trust and Mass Audubon and open to the public.

In addition, the 60 acres that comprise the heart of the farm–the fields on both sides of Route 62–will be permanently protected by an Agricultural Preservation Restriction held by the state, ensuring that the fields will remain in agricultural production and never developed. The land will be owned and operated by a private farmer. A trail easement will allow hikers to walk across the farm from the town-owned conservation land to Mass Audubon’s Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary.

How much will it cost town residents?

If the project is funded by a three-year loan (the most likely scenario at this time), it will cost the typical homeowner an average of $60 a year for three years, based on the average house value in Princeton of $305,832($5.00 a month).

Won’t it cost more because land is going off the tax roles?

We don’t think so. If we’re successful, in addition to the farmstead, one or more of the other development parcels will be sold and developed. The farmer owning the farmland will also pay taxes on those 60 acres, albeit a modest sum. The total will almost certainly be higher than the $14,027 in property taxes the farm generated last year.

With the Town approval, is the property guaranteed to be saved?

Not necessarily, but we’re optimistic. We are working to secure financial commitments from other conservation partners in the next four months. In addition, the two non-profits need to raise $750,000 in private donations. This campaign has begun and commitments totaling $340,000 have already been received.

Whom do I contact for more information?

Princeton Land Trust:
Tom Sullivan, 978-464-2032, tom.sullivan@princeton-ma.us
Ellen O’Brien, 978-464-2636, ellen@industrialpallet.com

Mass Audubon: Deb Cary, 508-450-5590, dcary@massaudubon.org