HARVARD -- Selectmen voted to exercise the town's right-of-first-refusal for the Lawton property on Littleton Road and to cede its purchase option to the Harvard Conservation Trust.

When a property is removed from "chapter protection," that is, land temporarily taken off local tax rolls due to its status as designated open space or for forestry or agricultural uses under applicable state statutes, the law spells out what happens next.

When a "chapter" parcel previously protected from taxes is placed on the market, its tax exemption ends, although a new owner may seek a similar arrangement.

But the town gets first crack at buying it.

With a valid offer in hand, the owner notifies the town, which then has a set time to respond.

In this instance, selectmen were notified in April that the Lawton land was up for sale and that the owner had a purchase-and-sales-agreement in hand, Town Administrator Tim Bragan told the selectmen Aug. 5.

Selectmen then had 30 days to act on one of three options: Offer to buy the land for the town, take no action or assign its "right-of-first-refusal" to another entity, as they did in this case.

The issue came up after deadline, but a procedural anomaly gave the board more time.

Bragan said the window of opportunity would ordinarily have closed by the time selectmen received a letter from Mr. Lawton in May asking what they wanted to do.


But due to a "deficiency" in the P&S document -- an amended version of which subsequently came back without contingencies -- the clock was still ticking, he said.

Following procedure, he reached out to other town agencies about possible interest in buying the Lawton parcel, which abuts conservation land, Bragan said, including the Conservation Commission and the Harvard Conservation Trust.

The other board passed, Bragan said, but the trust jumped at the chance.

The HCT is a private, nonprofit group whose mission includes acquiring available land that might otherwise be sold for development, augmenting the town's open space footprint.

Several trust members attended the meeting, exiting after the board's vote in their favor.