Section 23. (a) The secretary of environmental affairs shall establish a program to assist the commonwealth in the acquisition of agricultural preservation restrictions as defined in section 31 of chapter 184, for land actively devoted to agricultural or horticultural uses pursuant to sections 1 to 5, inclusive, of chapter 61A. The commissioner of agricultural resources may, from funds appropriated to carry out this section or from funds received from other sources, pay an agricultural land owner for a project submitted by a city or town and approved by the agricultural lands preservation committee established in section 24 such amount as is determined by the committee to be equitable in consideration of anticipated benefits from such project but not to exceed the difference between the fair market value of the land and the fair market value of the land restricted for agricultural purposes pursuant to this section. Title to agricultural preservation restrictions shall be held in the name of the commonwealth; provided, however, that a city or town in which such land is located which provides assistance satisfactory to the committee including, but not limited to, providing funds or portions thereof toward the purchase of such restriction, providing legal services and the enforcement of the preservation restriction shall hold title to such land jointly with the commonwealth. Projects shall be administered by conservation commissions in cities and towns in which such commissions have been established or, in a city, by the city council or its delegated agency subject to the city charter or, in a town, by the board of selectmen or its delegated agency. The commissioner, subject to the approval of the secretary, shall establish procedures for management of the program.
(b) Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the department of agricultural resources, with the approval of the co-holder, if any, in its sole discretion, may grant to any owner of land subject to an agricultural preservation restriction held by the commonwealth a nonassignable special permit allowing nonagricultural activities to occur on the agricultural preservation restriction land if: (i) the land is being actively utilized for full-time commercial agriculture; (ii) the permit is for a maximum of 5 years duration which may, at the discretion of the department, be renewed; and (iii) the grant of a special permit will not defeat or derogate from the intent and purposes of retaining the land for agricultural use and preserving the natural agricultural resources of the commonwealth and that the agricultural preservation restriction owner meets all requirements pertaining to special permits contained in the agricultural preservation restriction agreement form utilized by the commonwealth at the time of application for the special permit. In making the determination, the department shall consider the long-term productivity of the agricultural resource and the sustainability of the farm enterprise.
(c) Any applicant aggrieved by a decision of the department denying a request for a certificate of approval for agricultural activities or structures or for a special permit authorized in subsection (b), may request an adjudicatory hearing under chapter 30A before the agricultural lands preservation committee. The determination of the department shall contain a notice of a right to request a hearing and may specify a time limit, not to exceed 21 days, within which the applicant may request a hearing before the committee under said chapter 30A. If a timely request is received, the committee shall, within a reasonable time, hold a hearing in compliance with said chapter 30A. The committee shall designate a hearing officer to preside over the hearing, to assemble an official record of the hearing and to render a written decision which shall be submitted to the committee. The committee shall make the final decision.