The Open Space Preservation Commission at its hybrid meeting Thursday night discussed several topics, including some progress on the potential for the town to purchase 60-plus acres of wooded property in the Springwood neighborhood that was slated to be clear cut for possible development.
Previously the parcel, owned by Michael Umina, was being considered for the development of a solar array by BlueWave Solar. Concerned neighbors from the abutting Springwood and Hunters Ridge neighborhoods approached the property owner in April about their desire for conservation, noting that trees were being cleared. On May 5, Umina visited the site with abutters and halted the clear-cutting of trees.
At that point, abutter Sam Sader attended the May OSPC meeting. He indicated that he had spoken with Umina on several occasions and that Umina was willing to sell his land to the town, presenting a letter of intent from Umina. The OSPC then voted 3-0 to set up an ad hoc committee of stakeholders to discuss the land being a parcel of interest for purchase.
Chair Ed Harrow, who attended the meeting virtually, explained that he and Sader recently spoke with Umina about the property. Sader, also attending virtually, said that there were “several conversations” with Umina, who had been on vacation until this week. Sader, Umina and Town Manager Norman Khumalo were scheduled to meet briefly in person earlier in the day, but Sader said the meeting was postponed until “early next week” due to Khumalo feeling unwell.
“I think [Umina] is interested in selling all of the parcels that he has,” Sader said, “even the piece that he’s considering potentially putting solar on. I think it’s just a matter of him meeting with the town manager and basically establishing what’s for sale and what his intent is.”
Added Sader: “I just want them to meet and get the conversation going.”
Harrow added that the approximately six acres that would be used for what he termed as “a solar industrial complex” is “small potatoes” given the total amount of land that Umina owns and would be willing to sell. Sader said Umina owns about 80 acres in total in that vicinity.
“Really, his intent is to tie off all loose ends,” Sader said of Umina. “He’s interested in just unloading all of it, but the issue is going to be what he stands to gain from a lease agreement with BlueWave.”
Vice chair Steve Levandosky, who chaired the meeting, said it was encouraging that Umina’s parcels were “on the table now possibly.”
“I think that it’s potentially a great idea,” added OSPC member Jane Moran. “I’m glad that you’re continuing to go forward with it.”
Harrow asked Sader to contact Umina to get permission for OSPC members to go on a site walk of the property.
Debate over TCMC raises issue about where committee bills should be directed
Peter LaGoy, chair of Hopkinton’s Trails Coordination and Management Committee, appeared before the OSPC with a request to have TCMC bills from Hopkinton Lumber Company sent to the OSPC account, although TCMC then would pay from its budget.
There was some confusion expressed by OSPC members as to why the TCMC could not set up its own account. LaGoy explained that he was discouraged from doing so by Hopkinton Lumber because it already has “a laundry list of town accounts.” He also brought the issue up to the town’s accountant, Elizabeth Rourke, but no action has been taken to date.
Levandosky pointed out that the town holds several accounts with Hopkinton Lumber, including a general land use account and the OSPC account. Moran noted that the Upper Charles Trail Committee, which she chairs, also has an account there.
Moran said it seemed “duplicitous” to have the TCMC’s bills sent to the OSPC, adding that it suggested that the two entities are connected. Harrow called it “an awkward thing,” but he didn’t see it being a problem as long as the money is being deducted from the TCMC account.
“I just hate to see the two of them mixed up,” she added. “You’re clearly a very active, very impressive committee. I don’t know why you come to Open Space as a crutch for that.”
OSPC member Nancy Peters noted that it “adds another step” for Shannon Soares, the town’s land use administrative assistant, to perform. She questioned why one town organization would have to perform another one’s duties.
After some discussion, Levandosky proposed going forward with LaGoy’s request through September, but only for the materials needed for the Town Forest Bridge. Harrow added a condition that the bill must be paid with TCMC funds. It was approved by a 3-1 vote, with Moran in opposition.
Levandosky added that there should either be separate accounts for committees at Hopkinton Lumber or one general billing account for all of them through the Land Use Department. Harrow said he would contact the Town Manager’s Office for clarity on the issue.
Budget line item proposed for money to tackle invasives
Harrow discussed the growing concern about invasive species growing at Pratt Farm, including knotweed and bittersweet.
“If we do nothing, these things are going to be a major, major problem,” he explained. “They certainly have a negative opinion on the property, And, in my opinion, they have a negative impact on how we as custodians of the property are looked upon.”
Harrow suggested hiring people, “at least to some degree,” to remove the invasive species.
Mike Boelsen said he has been removing invasive species from the property “for years.” He also has been spending “hundreds of hours” removing autumn olive from around the soccer field.
“Everything I do is invasive,” he joked.
Moran suggested that a line item increase be proposed in the budget for invasive removal, particularly for the removal of knotweed.
“It seems like this is a problem that will not go away easily,” she said.
Harrow said that a licensed herbicide applicator must be used. He said he would seek advice as to the cost.
OSPC seeks to increase online presence
The committee also discussed reaching out for information on website design. Members said they would like to increase the committee’s online presence, possibly on YouTube or through a Facebook account. Soares noted that information or videos on invasive species would be helpful for residents.