Town eyes Harris Hill farm property

The town of New Milford has moved one step closer to preserving land from another farm in the once primarily agricultural community.

The Town Council agreed Monday to spend $5,000 to have the land appraised at Harris Hill Farm on Ridge Road so the town would have an estimated value.

George Harris and his children are seeking market value for the multi-million dollar land. Mr. Harris did not give an exact price but said it would be well over the $2.5 million paid for the nearby Chapin farm about two years ago.

Mr. Harris said he would love nothing more than to see his family's 150-acre property preserved for a new generation of farmers.

His hope, and that of his late wife, Vivian, a former Planning Commission chairman, was for the town to have the right of first refusal to buy Harris Hill Farm, which the couple bought in 1957.

He still hopes that can happen.

Mayor Pat Murphy said the appraisal is a first step. When town leaders know the property's value, they can start to talk about being be a partner in saving land, which many believe should be preserved to grow food for the community.

The farm's soil is conductive to all types of agriculture, Mayor Murphy said.

Her preference would be to save the land for food production, because farming requires far fewer municipal services than a residential subdivision and would preserve the town's rural character.

Mayor Murphy said she wants to do all she can to give town residents information "for intelligent decisions to be made.''

Into the 1980s, the Harrises had a herd of 120 dairy cows. More recently, the farm has grown and sold wholesale pumpkins, hay and animal corn. The Harris family also raised some cows, sheep and llamas for non-dairy use.

New Milford Youth Agency Executive Director Mark Mankin said he would be happy to expand the agency's farming venture from the former Sullivan Farm along Route 202 to Harris Hill, given the opportunity.

Mr. Harris said he hopes his family and the town can make a deal. He has given officials until the end of the year to make a decision.

If the town were to choose to buy the land, he said he would work on financial arrangements.

"If at all possible, we want the town to have the land,'' Harris said.