Town Meeting overwhelmingly voted Saturday to purchase 127 acres of land off Beaver Dam Road that includes a cranberry bog, along with a piece of land that extends into the Pine Hills.
The vote to spend $599,000 of Community Preservation money was 113-6. The town is adding $51,000 of grant money to that figure and will receive $375,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture to restore the area, accoridng to Environmental Affairs Director David Gould. The bog has already been taken out of commission.
Dubbed “Tidmarsh West,” the bog was part of the almost-complete Tidmarsh Farms restoration project, currently the largest wetlands restoration project in the state.
The purchase helps pave the way for Mass Audubon to buy the rest and turn it into a wildlife sanctuary. In order to do that, they need to raise $3.6 million by next June.
While the vote proved decisive, some Town Meeting Members did express doubts about the purchase. Precinct 15 Town Meeting Member Richard Nealey called it fiscally irresponsible and stated that it would provide $500,000 in annual tax revenue to the town if developed. Evan Shulman, one of the founders of Tidmarsh Farms and the owner of the property questioned that figure after the vote, saying that he’d be broke if he’d been paying that much in taxes. According to Shulman, 24 houses could have been built on the land.
Precinct 4 Town Meeting Member John Hammond disputed Nealey’s position, arguing that any tax benefit would be eaten up by the increased demand in services. He added that the preserve itself would attract visitors, and revenue, to the town.
Another Precinct 15 Town Meeting Member, Keven Joyce, questioned the source of the funding, asking about reports that the Pinehills development had offered to pay for the purchase and donate the land to the town. Town Manager Melissa Arrighi said the town had been approached by the Pinehills, but the offer included conditions that would have let them build on a portion of the property or transfer development rights to another location. The Board of Selectmen rejected that offer, she said.
Joyce voted in favor of the purchase.
Precinct 14 Town Meeting Member Charlotte Heller said the town would be wise to take advantage of the chance to preserve the town’s natural resources and Precinct 12 Town Meeting Member Ed Russell called it a “no-brainer.”