PLYMPTON – Monday, July 16, the Plympton Board of Selectmen voted to exercise its right of first refusal at a hearing on that question regarding a Prospect Street 113 acre parcel known as the Atwood property. This vote triggers a flurry of activity as town officials hurry to meet upcoming deadlines to properly purchase the property for the town.
The vote, and the townspeople gathered for the hearing, were unanimous in their support for the open space project, spearheaded by Linda Leddy, co-chairperson of the Open Space Committee, and a group made up of many different committee members, informally known as the Prospect Street Working Group.
The site contains woods, wetlands, cranberry bogs and gravel hills. It is now a Chapter 61A property, which comes with significant tax benefits for the owners if they maintain the land for agriculture. Now that it is being sold, and the use of the property is slated to change, the town can exercise its right under state law to purchase the property first instead.
Using some of the $30,000 in pre-acquisition funds allocated at the annual town meeting, the groups studied the property carefully for water contamination and ecological benefits before making their recommendations to the board.
At Monday night’s meeting, first Open Space Committee co-chair Linda Leddy gave a slide-show tour of the site and invited two guest experts to speak about the property.
Peter Newton, a hydrogeologist from a Mattapoisset firm, was asked to determine if the water on the acreage could possibly be contaminated from landfills nearby. Ultimately, he found no reason for concern with the hydrology of the site, even noting that a well is possible on the property, although the water, like much of the water in the area, may have high levels of iron, manganese and sodium.
“In my professional opinion, it is reasonable to not expect contamination,” he said.
Eric Walberg, an environmental planner from a Plymouth company, spoke to the unique ecological niche that properties such as this in rural parts of the state hold.
He spoke of the importance of preservation, for human recreation as well as for threatened and endangered species, and of the importance of resilient environments in the face of climate change.
Walberg stated that the Atwood property holds just such importance. “You guys really have an opportunity here…you are one of the few areas in the Taunton watershed that hasn’t faced development pressure,” said Walberg.
Next, Leddy outlined the plan to pay for the $800,000, 113-acre property.
Through a public procurement process, three small parcels totaling about 4.5 acres on Prospect Street will be sold by the town, raising $435,000. This was controversial, as Leddy said the OSC is not in the business of selling lots for houses, but that it was necessary for the overall project.
Another $65,000, at least, will hopefully come from private donations. Three donations have already been secured, according to selectman Mark Russo, totaling $25,000.
The remainder of the money needed, $300,000, will come from most, but not all, of the Community Preservation funds.
Russo commented on the financing plan: “I think it’s a beautiful model.”
While the board had questions of Leddy and the experts, especially selectman Christine Joy, the public had some questions but universally favorable comments.
When the hearing turned toward the evidence gathering stage of those for and against the project, about a dozen in the standing-room only meeting room spoke up in favor of the project, with one woman becoming quite emotional about the need to preserve open space for future generations.
The main topic of concern from the board and the public was that the purchase would not raise taxes. “I’m on the fence, and I just don’t want anything to affect taxes,” said Joy, the board’s most vocal member against tax increases.
“Where in this do you see taxes being raised, Christine?” responded Leddy.
Although there was some quibbling as to exactly whether Community Preservation funds are a tax, and Joy and Selectmen Chairman John Traynor both noted that they believed it was, the public was still supportive.
“I also take a little issue with the fact that the CPC [sic] is not a tax…when it comes out of your pocket…somehow it’s a tax,” said Traynor. “But it’s a good use of funds.”
Selectman Russo stated that the project would add no additional taxes to the tax bill.
Any property taxes taken off the tax rolls would more than be offset by the real estate taxes paid by the houses to be built on the three parcels, according to the town assessor Wendy Jones.
No one spoke, despite multiple opportunities, against the project.
In fact, after the board briefly deliberated and took their vote, there was lengthy applause from the townspeople gathered in the crowded and sweltering large meeting room at Town House.
Now, attorneys for the seller and the town must meet to draw up a purchase and sales agreement, under a strict timeline set out by state law – that the attorneys apparently don’t agree on.
Ultimately, this project must be approved by the voters, and the Selectmen, with Town Counsel, are meeting July 19 in executive session to further map out the path forward on the project.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Selectmen is Monday, July 23, at 6 p.m.