Chapter 20: Section 23. Program to assist in acquisition of agricultural preservation restrictions


Section 23. (a) The secretary of environmental affairs shall establish a program to assist the commonwealth in the acquisition of agricultural preservation restrictions as defined in section 31 of chapter 184, for land actively devoted to agricultural or horticultural uses as defined in sections 1 to 5, inclusive, of chapter 61A. The commissioner of agricultural resources may from funds appropriated to carry out this section, or received from other sources, pay any agricultural land owner for a project submitted by a city or town and approved by the agricultural lands preservation committee established by section 24 such amount as is determined by the agricultural lands preservation committee to be equitable in consideration of anticipated benefits from such project but not to exceed the difference between the fair market value of such land and the fair market value of such land restricted for agricultural purposes pursuant to this section. Title to agricultural preservation restrictions shall be held in the name of the commonwealth; provided, however, that a city or town in which such land is located which provides assistance satisfactory to the agricultural lands preservation committee, including but not limited to providing of funds or portions thereof toward the purchase of such restriction, the providing of legal services and the enforcement of the preservation restriction, shall hold title to such land jointly with the commonwealth. Projects shall be administered by conservation commissions in cities and towns in which such commissions have been established, or in a city, by the city council or its delegated agency subject to the provisions of the city charter, or in a town, by the board of selectmen or its delegated agency. The commissioner, subject to the approval of the secretary, shall establish procedures for management of such program.

(b) Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the department of agricultural resources, with the approval of the co-holder, if any, in its sole discretion, may grant to any owner of land subject to an agricultural preservation restriction held by the commonwealth a nonassignable special permit allowing nonagricultural activities to occur on the agricultural preservation restriction land, provided: (1) the land is being actively utilized for full-time commercial agriculture; (2) the permit is for a maximum of 5 years duration, which may, at the discretion of the department, be renewed; and (3) the agricultural lands preservation committee finds that the grant of a special permit will not defeat or derogate from the intent and purposes of retaining the land for agricultural use and preserving the natural agricultural resources of the commonwealth and that the agricultural preservation restriction owner meets all requirements pertaining to special permits contained in the agricultural preservation restriction agreement form presently utilized by the commonwealth at the time of application for the special permit.

Section 24. Agricultural lands preservation committee


Section 24. (a) There shall be an agricultural lands preservation committee in the department of agricultural resources, the members of which shall be the commissioner of agricultural resources, who shall be chairman, the secretary of environmental affairs, the director of housing and community development, the director of the office of state planning, the chairman of the board of agricultural resources or their respective designees, and 4 members appointed by the governor, 2 of whom shall be owners and operators of farms within the commonwealth. Members appointed by the governor shall receive $50 for each day or portion thereof spent in discharge of their official duties not to exceed $600 annually and shall be reimbursed for the necessary expenses incurred. The dean of the college of food and natural resources of the University of Massachusetts and the state conservationist of the United States Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service, or their respective designees, shall serve as nonvoting members.

(b) The committee shall evaluate and accept or reject projects submitted by cities and towns. In so evaluating, the committee shall consider at a minimum the following:

(1) the suitability of land as to soil classification and other criteria for agricultural use;

(2) the fair market value of such land and the fair market value of such land when used for agricultural purposes as determined by independent appraisals; and

(3) the degree to which the acquisition would serve to preserve the agricultural potential of the commonwealth.

(c) The commissioner of agricultural resources may establish such rules and regulations as may be deemed necessary to carry out this section.

(d) Each member of the committee appointed by the governor shall be appointed for a term of 4 years, and until his successor is qualified. Of the first such members appointed, 1 shall serve for a term of 1 year; 1 shall serve for a term of 2 years; 1 shall serve for a term of 3 years; 1 shall serve for a term of 4 years. A person appointed to fill a vacancy shall serve for the unexpired term of such vacancy. Any member may be eligible for reappointment.

Section 25. Annual report of agricultural lands preservation committee


Section 25. The agricultural lands preservation committee shall prepare an annual report. The report shall include the number and geographic distribution of applications accepted and rejected, the acreage and costs of purchases, and such other information as will enable the program to be evaluated.

Section 26. Property tax assessment of land under agricultural preservation restrictions


Section 26. Land under agricultural preservation restrictions, while actively devoted to agricultural, horticultural or agricultural and horticultural use as defined in sections 1 to 5, inclusive, of chapter 61A, shall be assessed for general property tax purposes at values no greater than those determined by the methods and provisions of section 10 of said chapter 61A.