As introduction, I would like the reader to know that I strongly support open space and outdoor recreation. I especially support connecting trails so that hikers, bikers and equestrians can enjoy the many wonders of our town. My record on the planning board, and as a chair of the Hazel Grove Agricultural Association bears this out.
What I object to is the idea that the Conservation Committee has a fund available to purchase land that it sees as valuable, and that they feel entitled to indefinite funding to continue to hoard land without a mechanism for maintenance and planning. The chair of ConsCom stood up on the floor of TM and was successful in convincing a majority of TM voters that funding their plan is a bargain for the town, and that our taxes and rural character are under siege and require your dollars.
What was left out of the discussion is that approximately 40% of our land is already under some type of development restriction. This may be conservation restriction, state or town ownership, or management by a conservation group such as NEFF (New England Forestry Foundation) or GCT (Groton Conservation Trust). Another neglected fact is that we have conservation by topography here in Groton. The ability of developers to put up homes and businesses is severely restricted due to the prevalence of wetlands. So the scare tactics of saying that if we don’t continue to fund ConsCom we are on the edge of a development cliff, are hyperbolic and misleading.
The funds that are given to ConsCom for them to purchase lands (CPC) are required by law not to be used for maintenance. Recently ConsCom sold the logging rights on property it owns off of Martins Pond Road for $9000. Logging rights are ConsCom’s only source of funding for maintenance. When asked how the money will be spent or on what properties, Conscom could not say.
There are currently no maintenance plans for ConsCom properties. I would prefer to see that funding be provided through a body or organization that can improve land for recreation and not one (CC) who expresses in open meetings that they do not improve properties they simply acquire them.
An example of preservation by topography is the Wharton Plantation property at Martins Pond and Old Dunstable Roads. This was quite controversial when it was purchased. One Selectman at the time questioned the wisdom of buying wetlands that could not be developed and was therefore preserved by topography. Another is the Cox/Walker Property. It was stated at TM that the Cox property could support development. This statement is true, but imprecise; something could have been built there. What wasn’t stated was that the parcel valuation was based on three buildable lots with frontage on Chicopee Row. The other 120+ or – acres would have been extremely difficult and costly to develop so the value was near zero, and therefore not included. This is a common practice when appraising raw land.
Lastly, when CPC deliberated on what they were going to fund, they had to limit the funds to groups who would serve a greater number of residents and provide a place that families can use and enjoy. By saying yes to one group, you often have to say no to another. Putting money into ConsCom’s checking account seems less a priority to me than providing things like a beach, playgrounds, and playing fields. In this case I would suggest that our priorities need to shift to active recreation, and away from open space, and let’s take care of and use what we already have.