The following is part of a transcript from the Oct. 20, 2014 Westford Special Town Meeting. For other parts of the meeting, click here.
7:49 p.m. – Article 6 would appropriate $350,000 in Community Preservation funds to acquire two pieces of land near Tenney Road and Wing Road known as the Timberlake Property.
Community Preservation Committee Chairman Kathleen Healy said that normally the CPC doesn’t ask for money during Special Town Meeting, but that this request would be tied to a LAND grant.
Conservation agent Bill Turner then presented a PowerPoint presentation on the motion.
At one point, Turner was asked to speak into the microphone while Conservation Commission chairman Eric Fahle operated the PowerPoint and a laser pointer.
The Timberlake Property is located in the northern part of Westford.
The purchase is supposed by a wide array of boards and organizations and if the purchase is not made, a housing development could be placed on the property.
Peter Cina of Sought-for Road asked what endangered species were on the property. Turner said it’s generally not advertised due to poaching.
Paul Cully of Patriot Lane said he would ask a few questions before moving to another microphone. He was impressed with the work done and asked what a “fee simple interest of less” on the deed for the property meant.
Town counsel Greg Corbo explained that a fee simple interest is a type of ownership in the land, which means the town would be the full owner of the property.
Harde asked what “or less” would mean, Corbo said “or less” allowed the Selectmen to negotiate something lower if it was in the full interest of the town.
Cully asked if less than full ownership was in the interest of the town, Turner said that a conservation restriction would require less than full ownership.
Cully then noted the bulk of the money for the purchase is largely coming from Community Preservation funding, but new Community Preservation funds from the state were not replacing that funding.
Turner then provided a detailed legal explanation from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.
After approximately five minutes of explanation, everyone laughed and clapped.
Robert Shaffer of Blakes Hill Rd. then asked why the town isn’t transferring money back to the Conservation Fund.
Turner said that the grant is not guaranteed and there could be less grant money coming than expected.
Shaffer then asked about the amount and what was being voted upon, Harde said that the Town Meeting was voting on the $350,000.
Shaffer requested money be returned to that fund, and Harde said an amendment could be made.
Gary Zwicker of Tadmuck Road talked about a history of the property and asked about accessibility from the Zwicker Property on Wing Road and trails onto the MIT property and how that impacting the value of that property.
Turner said it would not impact the accessibility. The two went back and forth before Harde stopped the discussion.
Aaron Babcock of Polly Road said he was unsure if the vote would preserve a forest or build a community. Turner said it was to preserve a forest.
Jerry Salmon of Buckboard Drive asked how much is left in the Community Preservation funds after this, Finance Director Dan O’Donnell said after this there would be $1.46 million left in the Community Preservation funds after this.
Salmon then asked how the price was per market value, Turner said it seemed like it wasn’t bad.
Matt Lewin of the Planning Board then mentioned that the appraised value of this land is $970,000 and we’re buying it for $900,000.
The amendment was then presented to Mike Wells, the town’s Information Services director.
Paul Cully approached the “oppose” microphone. He said he has walked the land and did not want to oppose this, but he says that no attempt was made to address the town’s housing needs and it can’t be addressed now.
But if this is not addressed in the future, it speaks bad for town government. He said he believes he’s in a minority, but that the town needs to address its affordable housing liability.
The amendment then changed funding meant to be deposited in the General Fund to go into the Conservation fund.
Corbo was then asked for his opinion if this is legal. He said that the town is looking to reimburse itself for grants to be used toward the purchase of the property.
He said that it is unclear if the grant money would ever be acquired, and what couldn’t be done is something that would bind future town meetings.
Due to that, Harde said the amendment could not be accepted, although the amendment could be reintroduced if it was non-binding.
Lynn Cohen of Fletcher Road came in opposition. She was confused that the town could not appropriate the money although it seemed that was happening, but Harde said the grant money could not be appropriated.
Cohen then asked another question relating to putting the money back into the Community Preservation fund.
Corbo said that the issue causing confusion there was that this was just informing voters that by law some of the money would go into the Community Preservation fund and some would go into the General Fund.
So tonight is to appropriate Community Preservation funds and purchase the property and if the grant money comes, where the money goes can be addressed then.
Kate Hollister asked for an amendment to delete the final sentence that was causing the confusion.
Harde asked if the language relating to where the money could be striken due to the confusion it was causing, Corbo said it could.
Healey asked a question regarding the Community Preservation funding, specifically how unused funding would be preserved if it was not used.
Emily Teller of Texas Road asked how the money would be tracked.
O’Donnell said it can still be tracked and the figure can be presented at a future Town Meeting.
Steve Sadowski of Evergreen Circle asked what would happen if the town doesn’t get the grant money.
Turner said that the town would not be reimbursed and the purchase of the land is not conditional on the grant.
Harde clarified that the grant application is separate from the appropriation tonight.
Hollister’s amendment passed, but not unanimously, by a voice vote.
Joan Dunleavy of Wing Road said in opposition that the Timberlake Property was not centrally located and had nothing to do with the MIT’s trails, unless someone wanted to trespass on the Zwicker Property.
She said no one could benefit from this purchase other than wildlife.
Ron Gemma of the Westford Conservation Trust said in support that there have been trails that have been used for years there.
Denali Delmar of Dunstable Road said in support that there are many reasons to buy this property and prevent it from becoming houses, particularly the cost of educating children that would move into the houses.
Wendy Derragh of Wing Road spoke in opposition saying there is not a network of trails there, indicating she is an abutter. She said a map could be put back up to prove this.
Bill Harmon of Chamberlain Road spoke in support of the motion saying the land had a significant slope away from Tenney Road and said that it would make a good asset to town-owned land to the north.
Adrian Martin of Villanova Drive spoke in support, saying asked why getting a large piece of conservation property was a bad thing. The only reason he thought was if a developer needed access.
Wayne Zwicker of Wing Road said in opposition as an abutter that the Timberlake Property would be landlocked.
Harde asked if the property would or wouldn’t be landlocked.
Derragh said its used would be limited to 10 houses on Wing Road.
Erika Kohl asked why the property being landlocked mattered.
Turner said it is what it is.
Erin Cavanaugh of Dempsey Way spoke in support noting that a surcharge on taxes for Community Preservation funds was levied and she supported that so things like this could be addressed.
Martin spoke again in support believes that Wing Road provides access to that land, but any developer would have to pay a significant amount to build there since it’s a dead end road.
George Murray of Haywood Road asked about parking for people to access the land.
Turner said that parking could be added.
Marian Harmon of Chamberlain Road spoke in support citing that private property rights of the Timberlakes would be impacted if this were defeated, as the private property rights of the Zwickers would be impacted according to earlier speakers.
Harde asked for a vote.
The motion passed by a majority of the meeting, but not unanimously. There was applause.