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Open Space Preservation Commission discusses guidelines for land donation

by | Oct 8, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The Open Space Preservation Commission at its meeting Thursday night discussed the need for OSPC to review land slated to be donated to the town before it is conveyed because this had not been done in the case of Turkey Ridge Estates open space earlier this year.

Members discussed the gift of land to the town at the Turkey Ridge subdivision, which Town Meeting approved in May with the passages of Article 37. Concerns rose that the land could be covered with invasive species, prompting a discussion about the need to survey and assess land in advance of the town’s decision to accept it.

“This has landed in our lap,” said chair Ed Harrow. “We don’t know anything about it.”

The proposed eight-lot definitive subdivision, originally known as Deer Ridge Estates, is located at 52 Cedar Street Extension, near the Southborough border. The Planning Board approved the project in November 2021. Early this year, the site faced fines for erosion control violations because sedimentation flowed into the riverfront area of the Sudbury River. The Conservation Commission voted to hold those fines in abeyance because significant strides were made to stabilize the area.

At its September meeting, the OSPC voted to become the receiving body by default for land donations to the town. This decision came about because of an administrative error in the case of open space that surrounds Whisper Way as part of an open space and landscape preservation development (OSLPD) special permit for a 12-unit subdivision. Four building permits for lots there were issued before the open space was conveyed to the town, contrary to the conditions of the OSLPD bylaw. The process was unclear about which town entity was in charge of accepting the land, which led to the OSPC vote.

Members discussed the need for a site walk of the Turkey Ridge Estates property to assess its condition. Member Jane Moran, who also serves on the Planning Board, said that the Planning Board had conducted a site walk previously. At that time, she didn’t note many invasive species around the periphery, but she couldn’t see further into the site because of the development of homes. The land would be muddy and challenging to walk at this point, she pointed out.

Member Nancy Peters was concerned that the land donation decision was “tucked into” a Town Meeting vote without an opportunity for the OSPC to discuss it beforehand or note the presence of invasives, which would be costly to remove.

Harrow, who also serves on the Conservation Commission, confirmed that “there is a knotweed problem” at the site that the Conservation Commission discussed. He was unsure if the land in question had been treated this year.

Peters stressed that OSPC should have the opportunity to refuse land donations if it deems the area to be problematic. In this case, she had not seen the site and didn’t know the land’s condition.

Moran clarified that the OSPC “set a precedent” at the September meeting. Moving forward, because of that, the OSPC would have the ability to vote to deny a land donation.

Said Moran: “Going forward, I think we can start to establish some guardrails.”

Member Steve Levandosky wanted to confirm that the town currently owns the land and if there are boundary markings in place between the open space and the house lots. Harrow said he would confirm this information with the town.

David Goldman noted that if the Turkey Ridge open space land is part of an OSLPD, a conservation restriction is required. Criteria should be established prior to a vote of acceptance of the land, he added. They should include a survey for invasive species and established boundary markers “for all external and internal boundary points.” This information could then be presented to the Planning Board to include in its decision-making process.

OSPC votes to file application for land parcels

After some discussion, the OSPC voted unanimously to file a joint application for Community Preservation Committee funding with the Trails Committee at the request of its chair, Peter LaGoy, via email.

One site was the MetroWest Holding property along Route 85 at the end of Echo Trail to allow for a continued trail connection. Two parcels owned by Eversource near Berry Acres were deemed “high priority,” said Levandosky. Also included in LaGoy’s email were two properties along the Center Trail owned by the McBride family and a 60-acre landlocked parcel behind the rail bed on East Main Street owned by Merylyn Mezzitt.

Levandosky stressed that the property owners would have to be willing to sell the property.

“Even if these properties were 100% knotweed, I would still want that land,” he said.

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