GROTON — Seeing numerous advantages for both buyer and seller of a strip of land along the shores of Baddacook Pond, members of the Conservation Commission decided to move ahead last week with a purchase- and-sale agreement with the New England Forestry Foundation to buy a 52-acre parcel of the foundation’s Wharton Plantation property.
Purchase of the property by the town is the subject of a warrant article to be presented to voters at an upcoming Town Meeting on Oct. 18. Residents will be asked to approve the appropriation of $370,000 from the Conservation Fund to help pay for half the purchase price of the land.
If approved, the other half of the purchase price would be paid by a matching grant from the state.
However, in an earlier review of the article, the Board of Selectmen voted not to recommend the purchase on grounds that it was “not a priority” in a year of economic uncertainty for the town. But according to selectmen Anna Eliot and Peter Cunningham, who attended last week’s meeting of the Conservation Commission, that position could change.
In a presentation before the Board of Selectmen in 2009, NEFF attorney Whit Beals said his client had decided to rid itself of some underperforming properties, including its acreage in Groton known as the Wharton Plantation.
At the time, Beals said it was thought that the town might have a special interest in purchasing the property due to its proximity to Baddacook Pond and its possible use as the site of a future town well.
In a letter to selectmen dated Jan. 26, 2009, NEFF stated that for a number of years, it had been in discussions with the town’s Water Department over the purchase of water rights on the Wharton Plantation property, which was appraised at $725,000.
With interest by the Water Department, and the availability of state-matching funds and private donations, NEFF had hoped to secure the cooperation of the Board of Selectmen in the proposal.
Should the deal be completed, Beals assured selectmen that NEFF had every intention of keeping the money it made from the sale in town by using it to purchase another piece of property, owned by Lee Edmunds off Kemp Street, adjacent to the group’s existing Kemp Woods land.
But even though the proposed sale had the enthusiastic support of the commission, members last week, in considering a vote on accepting the purchase and sales agreement, were concerned that no mention was made in the document about access to the property.
Without legal access to it, said commission Chairman Bruce Easom, the actual appraised value of the land would end up being a good deal less than what the town would end up paying for it.
The only ways in and out of the 52-acre parcel are access by a footpath from Old Dunstable Road and a paved driveway installed by NEFF and shared among a number of property owners in the neighborhood.
As pointed out by commissioners last week, there also existed an easement for an old road leading from Route 40 to Baddacook Pond Road to the property. What the commission wanted was to secure that access in the purchase-and-sale document in case it could be used. But then, after the demolition of an existing home on the Baddacook property, they wanted to have it discontinued as a town road and make the new driveway the sole means of access for vehicles.
One reason why the easement was not specifically mentioned in the purchase-and-sale agreement for the Baddacook land may have been because the state’s Department of Environmental Protection ordered it closed to protect the wetlands. However, NEFF never recognized the DEP’s position and considered the access still viable.
If the 52 acres were appraised with NEFF’s position in mind, the ability to properly access the land via the easement, said Easom, then wording to that effect should be included in the purchase-and-sale agreement.
Furthermore, should it be determined that the driveway and footpath were not sufficient in granting access to the property, the state might reconsider financing a parcel that was not worth as much as it was appraised for.
Factors listed by Easom in favor of buying the property included protection of Baddacook Pond and a future well site for the town, extinguishing the existing easement, allowing NEFF to use the purchase money to buy and protect more land in West Groton, and to enhance the value of protecting more land around the pond by the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
Adding pressure on commissioners to see the deal finished is the intention of NEFF to seek a private buyer for the land, who could then build at least one four-bedroom home on the property.
Agreeing with Easom, commissioners voted last week to include wording covering “all rights and easements” in the purchase-and-sale agreement that the Conservation Commission voted to approve and send to the town’s legal counsel for review.