For many communities, CPA provides the perfect mechanism to acquire a piece of historic farmland while incorporating elements from several different CPA categories. However, the tricky part for mixed-use projects is often the planning process: communities need to have a clear idea for what their CPA funds will be used for, how the land will be preserved, and the best way to save and utilize historically significant buildings on the property. The Town of Seekonk demonstrated the perfect approach to opportunities like this with the Medeiros Family Farm. In a collaboration between the local CPC, town officials, and the Seekonk Land Conservation Trust, the town worked with the property owners to develop a vision for the farm that will serve multiple needs for the community, all while following the restrictions required under CPA for open space, outdoor recreation, and historic preservation.
During their November 2021 town meeting, residents in Seekonk had a unique opportunity presented to them – by appropriating $2 million in CPA funds, they would be able to purchase the 40 acre Medeiros property. The historic chicken farm, known for its iconic red and white farmhouse and outbuildings, includes several open fields and swathes of forested wetlands. According to the state’s procurement laws, acquisitions of real property interests under CPA must first get an appraisal, and the municipality cannot appropriate more than the appraised value to complete the acquisition. In the case of the Medeiros property, the appraised value amounted to a sizeable $2 million. And while there were other offers from developers at a higher price point, the Medeiros family was willing to have the town purchase the property through the CPA program, allowing it to be preserved for future generations. In a resounding vote of 145 to 6, Seekonk Town Meeting approved this community-driven preservation project.
"Our town in indebted to Paul Medeiros, executor of the Medeiros estate, for accepting the appraisal value and resisting the pressures of land developers," said John Alves, Chair of the Seekonk CPC. "Indeed an enormous thank you to all who made this possible."
What makes this such a perfect CPA success story? Not only did the town have the opportunity to preserve a piece of land within the community, but there were plans established for the future uses of the property to help convince town residents that this was a worthwhile investment. For over two centuries, Seekonk was largely composed of small family farms with commercial development limited to areas along nearby highways. But in recent decades, the town has become more suburban, and many of these family farms have been swallowed up by developments with fewer opportunities to preserve open space and the town’s agricultural heritage. Preventing the Medeiros property from becoming yet another subdivision, the Community Preservation Committee worked with conservation agent Jennifer Miller and the town's Recreation Director, John Pozzi, to put together a proposal that incorporated the preservation of historic farm buildings, along with plans to create new athletic fields, community gardens, and trails within the forested open space on the property.
Here are the details of the plan for the Medeiros property that were presented to town meeting:
Parcels 1 and 2, comprised of 7.85 acres of open fields, would be used for active recreation needs and developed into new athletic fields to keep pace with the increasing demand from residents.
Parcel 3 and 4, comprised of 32.27 acres, would include two more athletic fields, as well as 3 acres of community gardens, over 22 acres of open space with community trails, and the historic preservation of five buildings from the original farm property. In preparation for this plan, Seekonk’s local Historic Commission toured the property, examined the buildings, and deemed them to be significant to the town’s history - a necessary step to ensure that the buildings would qualify for CPA historic preservation funding. Among the assets being preserved are:
- The Farm House, which will be converted into offices and storage space
- The Garage and Egg Barn, both of which will be transformed into the home of a new historic museum on the site
- The Chicken Coop, which will be used as an extension of the historic museum and additional equipment storage
- The Greenhouse, which will be incorporated as a part of the planned community gardens
The Medeiros Family Farm is a rare example of a mixed-use CPA project that is a clear winner for multiple categories—not only will dozens of acres of open space be preserved for trails and athletic fields, but the town succeeded at mapping out a way to protect and utilize the historic buildings on the property without risking their destruction in the process of this land acquisition. Oftentimes, communities will succeed in acquiring a property that has unique and valuable assets like this, but that’s only half the battle. Without a plan in place that follows the restrictions and guidelines set forth in the CPA legislation, planners are left scratching their heads for years trying to figure out the proper way to use the land or the historic buildings in place. In Seekonk’s case, they were able to capitalizes on the willingness of the Medeiros family to keep this land as not only a part of the town’s agricultural history, but provide valuable outdoor resources for residents to enjoy for decades to come.