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Several lots of land have officials’ attention for future use as school, housing

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HARVARD — It’s not an official committee. But a group of town officials has been talking about the town’s land acquisition needs and recently went on a site walk with that aim in mind. The spark came from the Board of Selectmen.

A few weeks ago, the board received a letter from Attorney Roy Pastor on behalf of the Getty brothers, who have property near the schools they want to sell and would reduce in price if the town buys it.

Chairman Leo Blair said he’d seen the land and it’s worth looking into.

After some discussion, the board asked Peter Warren to follow up.

Tuesday night, Warren reported back.

He’d seen a couple of parcels near the center of town that might be worth acquiring, he said, either as the site of a future school or to build affordable housing.

Warren walked the Small land and the Getty property with a group he assembled representing other boards: George McKenna from the Finance Committee, John Lee of Park and Recreation, Paul Willard from Conservation, Willie Wickman from the School Committee and Lucy Wallace, representing the Affordable Housing Trust.

On the Small land, wetlands problems they saw were confirmed on a map, he said, making it “questionable” as a school site, but they didn’t rule out affordable housing.

The Getty land was a pleasant surprise, he said. The biggest issue might be a public well on an adjacent parcel, with a 400-foot restricted activity zone.

Egress is another problem, but he thinks it can be solved, he said. More good news: an engineer from Ross Associates has said there shouldn’t be a problem with septic permits, Warren said.

It’s worth noting that the Master Plan doesn’t address the need to land bank, he said. The question then becomes — what’s the town’s plan to meet future needs?

When the group discussed that subject, Devens came up for possible school sites, and the Barber land, which is also for sale, could accommodate affordable housing, he said.

To get more input, Warren said the water commissioners and Victor Normand, of the Conservation Trust, were invited to attend the group’s next meeting, the first week of December.

Warren said that for this idea to become a reality, town voters have to buy into it, and will need to see specifics. There must be a “defined use” for the land and a “creative financing” plan, he said.

Given the credentials of Warren’s informal group, Selectman Tim Clark said he’s concerned about its status in terms of the Open Meeting Law. Although not a selectmen-appointed committee, he said it might be prudent for meetings to be posted.

Warren said anyone who wants to attend is welcome. As for solidifying the group into an official body, that can be discussed at its next meeting, he said.

Meantime, Blair suggested asking Getty landowners to extend the 60-day window for the board to make up its mind.

“You might want to do that now,” he said to Warren.

Clark said there’s no need to rush. With no option on the table, an extended timeframe won’t rule out another buyer making an offer, he said.

Blair agreed there’s no commitment implied. But a request to extend the offer would let the owners know the town’s interest is sincere, he said.