Westport Land Trust to buy 125-acre Santos Farm

Aims to preserve farming tradition on landmark property

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 2/13/20

WESTPORT — That long barn with its cupolas, the silos and old stone walls — Santos Farm is everybody’s favorite Main Road view and now an effort has begun to purchase …

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Westport Land Trust to buy 125-acre Santos Farm

Aims to preserve farming tradition on landmark property

Posted

WESTP{ORT — That long barn with its cupolas, the silos and old stone walls — Santos Farm is everybody’s favorite Main Road view and now an effort has begun to purchase and protect the property and its long farming tradition.

The Westport Land Conservation Trust approached the Board of Selectmen last week with its proposal to purchase the 125-acre 1309 Main Road property for $4.25 million. The WLCT  recently entered into a purchase and sales agreement with the owners — Santos brothers  Karl, Kevin, Arthur and Norman, who intend to leave the dairy business there but are continuing with their Shy Brothers cheese operation.

The plan calls for protecting the front 80 acres along Main Road with a conservation restriction that would assure that it always remains in farming. That portion would then be promptly, they hope, re-sold to a farmer for $500,000.

The Land Trust would keep the remaining 43 back acres of fields, woodlands and watershed off Cornell Road and eventually add these to the adjacent Herb Hadfield property.

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to endorse the project.

“This is the postcard that we see in almost every shop in town, with the sun setting behind it,” said selectman Brian Valcourt who also serves on the town Agricultural Open Space Trust Fund Council. “It is in our best interest to save as many farms as we can.

The payment plan

The plan is that the town’s Community Preservation Committee would provide $500,000 toward the purchase price, money that would be matched by $500,000 from the town’s Agricultural Open Space Trust Fund Council whose fund now contains around $865,000, money remaining from a 2006 bond issue. Neither of those funding sources would require raising taxes.

The balance of the money would come from grants, particularly from the state Division of Fish & Game, and from philanthropical gifts.

The Santos family has been farming the property for three generations and it was a farm before that, said Ross Moran, executive director of the Land Trust.

“We have been working with the family for a couple of years to protect the property and get it to a farmer … so that it continues to be used for farming,” Mr. Moran said.

“Unfortunately we couldn’t come to a terms on a restriction ,,, to keep (the Santos family) there.” He said the family will, however, be able to continue farming on other land it owns in Westport.”

The family has been stewarding not only this property but several hundred acres across town,” Mr. Moran said. “it’s hard to continue at that level.”

Negotiations were complicated and, in August, the family decided to test the market.

The property was listed for sale at a price of $7.4 million, a number that was reduced to $5 million in August.

Said the listing, “Sherman Hill Farm is a 125-acre farm created in 1947 on rolling land between the two branches of the Westport River. Overlooking the Westport River and Atlantic Ocean, the farm sits on high ridges and benefits from the salt-air climate and prevailing ocean breeze. The offering includes a single-family residence, barns, and support structures. In 2006, focus shifted from fluid milk to artisan cheeses - utilizing the productive soils, grasses, and climate.” 

“It is some of the best prime agricultural … soil left in town,” Mr. Moran said.

Beyond that, “it has a tremendous scenic view with 3,000 linear feet of road frontage on Main Road and Cornell Road.”

The land also has watershed into Dunham’s Brook and Angeline Brook “which are two of nine cold water fishing resources left in Massachusetts.”

“So this property really embodies everything that Westport is and everything that Westport, as a community, seeks to protect,” Mr. Moran said.

The barn, he added, “is in good structural shape, it needs cosmetic work and minor structural work” — the silos, which are missing their tops, haven’t been used in decades.

WLCT Land Specialist Steve Sloan said a key to the transaction will be the timely sale of the front 80 acres to a farmer “in order to have enough money lined up to acquire the property in the first place.”

To that end, WLCT will hire a local broker to manage the process of the resale to a qualified farmer. “We will seek a recommendation from a committee of local agricultural and conservation experts on the future farmer,” Mr. Moran said later. “Access to restricted value farmland s important to farmers because market value land isn’t feasible to buy. This farm is some of the best prime agricultural soil resources in town, so it will be important to find a farmer who has an existing operation to pick right up in stewarding the property.”

The restriction means that future owners of that acreage would need to keep the land in farming — it could not be sold to developers.

Today, said the August real estate listing, “Shy Brothers Farm is an award-winning producer of four craft cheeses: Charlotty, Hannahbells, Cloumage, and mozzarella curd.”

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