Agrarian Trust

Plans to Develop Shelved in RI: Land Returns to Agriculture

By Richard Salit from the Providence Journal

Plans to convert historic Di Meo farm in Johnston into housing duplexes upset conservationists and forced the farmer leasing the land to relocate out of state earlier this year.

But now Michael Di Meo, owner of the property, has shelved his plans to develop the land and is seeking to return it to farming.

“Mr. Di Meo has decided to put the land back out for lease for farming,” Kenneth Ayars, chief of the agriculture division at the state Department of Environmental Management, said on Friday. “We’re very encouraged. It’s what we like to see happen. Our mission is to keep agriculture going in this state. One of the biggest parts of that is land.”

Notice that the land is available for rent for agriculture went up last week on a brand new Web page that the agriculture division has created to connect landowners with farmers, Ayars said.

Di Meo’s change in plans comes too late for Charles Currie, a young farmer who was told he would have to leave to make way for the development. Currie found a new location in Raynham in the winter as representatives for Di Meo sought the necessary approvals from the town to build 10 duplexes on seven prime acres of the 39-acre property.

Di Meo’s intent to develop the property upset those concerned about Rhode Island’s loss of valuable farmland and renewed talks with Ayars’ office over the possibility of the state purchasing development rights from him.

“That remains a subject that has potential,” Ayars said.

More important, he said, is that Di Meo appears to want to preserve the land for agriculture.

“That certainly is of interest to us giving our mission related to agriculture,” Ayars said, “and is also of interest to many farmers needing to have access to land, especially many new and beginning farmers.”

The notice on DEM’s website reads: “A farm. A career. A lifestyle. Are you ready? The Di Meos have the land, home and ideas for you to become a farmer, a successful farmer.”

It goes on to say, “Farming is changing again. It needs to be re-invented. Are you ready? The Di Meos operated the farm at 396 Greenville Ave. in Johnston, R.I. for 108 years. The tradition is well known. It’s time for someone else to expand the tradition.”

Di Meo’s application for the necessary permits was withdrawn from consideration after objections to the plans were raised in the winter. Di Meo could not be reached for comment.