SHIRLEY With only eight undeveloped land tracts of 50 acres or more left in town that are not "protected," the Conservation Commission is looking to acquire one of them.
Describing the initiative at recent Board of Selectmen's meeting, Conservation Agent Mike Fleming tied it to the commission's mission-based to-do list. He cited as reference the Open Space section of the Master Plan, which can be viewed on the town website.
Basically aimed at protecting and preserving natural resources for current and future generations, Fleming in a later conversation with The Nashoba Valley Voice explained how acquiring the land in question would further long term conservation goals.
As he told the board, the land is located close to existing conservation land and abuts a separate, five-acre parcel that its owner has offered to donate.
Currently protected under tax-deferred provisions of "Chapter 61B" as open space and recreation land, that designation ends if the property is sold for development. But not if its use stays the same.
Noting that the parcel has only one buildable lot and other issues that might not thrill developers, it fits conservation purposes and the commission hopes to make its move as soon as possible, Fleming said.
Targeting a total project cost of $276,000, plans Fleming sketched for the selectmen involve cobbling together a trio of funding sources, including a "Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity" (LAND) grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environment Affairs that could cover up to 68-percent of the cost.
For its part, the commission would kick in $20,000 from its own nest egg and ask Town Meeting for the rest, a net outlay for the town of $68,352.
Asked how much is in the Conservation account, Fleming said there's $41,000, minus $2,000 for the property appraisal, which estimated the value of the parcel at $260,000.
"We could close by June, 2020," he said, if the proposal passes muster at the fall special town meeting later this year and if the grant comes through.
But it all hinges on securing the grant, which would be cited as a condition in the warrant article. Absent that piece, "this all goes away," Fleming said.
Selectman Bryan Sawyer asked for confirmation on that point, noting that he wouldn't want to set out on a track that could commit the town to paying the full cost of the project.
Fleming assured him that won't happen and that the warrant article would be worded accordingly.
He turned the presentation over to Attorney and land acquisition specialist Janet Morrison, who was hired by the Conservation Commission to assist.
Morrison explained how the process works.
LAND grant submission requirements call for the selectmen's approval, allowing the commission to move forward on the land acquisition, she said, plus a Town Meeting vote to fund it.
The funding request would be for the full amount - $276,000 -- she said. But with the grant and the town's deducted, the town's total buy-in cost would be $68,352.
The grant application must include a detailed description of the land, with maps, along with the purpose of the proposed purchase and facts and figures to back it up.
"This (land) is of interest for a couple of reasons," Morrison said, with state and municipal conservation land nearby. It's also identified on the zoning overlay map as a designated well site, she said, although not yet approved as such.
A key point to consider, she said, is that as private development encroaches on water protection areas, problems that led to a recent ban on irrigation and other outdoor water use may get worse.
With a beaver pond and a brook, the property is not only ideal for conservation purposes, it's the kind of area developers covet, she said. And the proposal seeks to do more than provide recreation or protect wildlife, which makes it more likely to get the grant. "One of my jobs is to tell you whether this is a strong project," Morrison said. In her view, it is.
Resident Jim Yocum said it looks promising for the town, too, "This seems like a no-brainer," he said.
Selectman Andre Jean-Jacques asked if the Finance Committee had reviewed the pending proposal.
The answer was no. Town Administrator Mike McGovern said that step would be premature, given that the presentation was for "information only" and there's no budget issue on the table at this point.
Selectman Bryan Sawyer, who served on the FinCom for several years, concurred. The other board would have a chance to weigh in "if we put it on the warrant," he said.
But if the board is inclined to give its approval, the Conservation Commission needs it soon, to meet a looming grant application deadline. The selectmen agreed to vote on it at the July 8 meeting.