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‘Trailblazing’ agreement leads to preservation of Sussex farm, forest

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An aerial shot of the Jones Farm property. | PHOTO COURTESY OF SUSSEX COUNTY

LEWES — Three local government entities have combined to buy 37.5 acres along Route 9, in a unique deal to preserve the farm and forest land.

Sussex County, the city of Lewes and the Lewes Board of Public Works are acquiring the Jones Farm property for roughly $5.5 million from J.G. Townsend, Jr. & Company, an agribusiness and real estate developer.

The property was appraised at $7.1 million, but J.G. Townsend, Jr. & Company cut more than $1.5 million off the selling price, reflecting more than 22% in savings, according to Sussex County officials. A sales agreement will be drafted in the next few weeks, and settlement is expected this fall.

How the property will be used have yet to be formalized, although the Lewes Board of Public Works plans to construct a water tower in the northwest corner of the property. Beyond that, Sussex County officials noted that it could include some form of passive recreation for the public.

Right now, part of the land is currently farmed and will continue for the foreseeable future, according to Sussex County Public Information Officer Chip Guy.

Sussex County officials touted the trailblazing agreement, which notably marks the first time the county used funds from a 2006 ordinance that allows developers to increase project densities in growth areas in exchange for added fees. That money is earmarked for open space preservation.

“This type of purchase is the model we should be looking for, partnerships where everyone participates – the county, the towns, property owners, and developers,” said Sussex County Councilman Irwin ‘I.G.’ Burton III, one of the principal forces in facilitating the joint purchase. “We must work together as a community, collaboratively, if we want to preserve open space for the community to enjoy now and for generations to come.”

Both Sussex County and Lewes BPW will contribute $2 million each to the purchase and the city of Lewes is putting in $1.5 million. The county’s contribution depletes monies collected from the 2006 ordinance.

Lewes BPW Chairman D. Preston Lee said the board was pleased to collaborate on the property purchase, noting since the land falls within the city’s wellhead protection area, it would also protect the city’s water supply as well.

“Its preservation will protect a meaningful portion of the precious ground water recharge area adjacent to BPW’s well field that supplies high quality water to the citizens of Lewes and surrounding area,” Lee said in a prepared statement. “We sincerely appreciate the extensive efforts by Councilman Burton coordinating with the landowner, the city of Lewes, the Sussex County Council and the BPW to put this historic agreement together.”

In addition to protecting the water supply, Lewes Mayor Ted Becker called the partnership a major step forward in the preservation of open space.

“The strategic location of this property along the Historic Lewes Scenic Byway will serve as perpetual recognition of the agricultural heritage of the lands surrounding Lewes,” Becker said. “The city is proud to be a partner in this significant effort to preserve open space.”

J.G. Townsend, Jr. & Company President Paul G. Townsend said the company has a history of bargain sales with the state and county and is proud to continue this tradition with the sale of this highly desirable piece of property.

“We commend the three bodies for their efforts to reach this agreement,” Townsend said in a prepared statement.

By Katie Tabeling

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