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Opposition Voiced to Conservation Restriction

Annual Town Meeting members will be asked on May 19 to place eight parcels of land, encompassing about 200 acres, from Louisa Lake to Interstate 495 under at permanent conservation restriction. Various town officials note the property is some of the sensitive land in Milford since it surrounds the community's aquifer and water supply. The protected land would also abut the Upper Charles Trail, which is shown in this photo with Louisa Lake in the foreground. Jane Bigda photo

Despite the fact that the Town of Milford put 185.7 acres of donated conservation land under a permanent conservation restriction (CR) in 2007 without any controversy, the idea of putting another 200 nearby acres under a similar restriction is running into opposition. Some town officials say it would be letting an "outside" agency "control" the land.

As part of its planned residential development (PRD) agreement with the town, the developer of the Walden Woods condominium complex off Cedar St. (Route 85) deeded 185.7 acres of open space to the town. That land was put under the jurisdiction of the town's Conservation Commission and placed under a permanent CR with The Trustees of Reservation, (TTOR) the state's oldest and largest land trust.

The idea of putting a similar conservation restriction on eight town-owned properties that run from Louisa Lake toward Interstate Route 495 gained traction late last year when Selectman Brian Murray brought it up when his board was reviewing an updated version of the town's Community Development Strategy document. A committee was formed to study the idea, and its recommendations will be voted on at the May 19 Annual Town Meeting. Article 17 is a three-part article calling for:

• Transferring five of the eight parcels of the total land area not already under the "care, custody and jurisdiction" of the town's Conservation Commission to that board;

• Authorizing the Board of Selectmen to enter into a CR agreement with the TTOR or another appropriate organization; and,

• Authorizing $12,500 for costs associated with establishing the CR.

While the Board of Health supports the idea, Selectman William Buckley spoke out against it at his board's March 17 and April 7 meetings and Planning Board members voiced their concerns on April 8. Resident James Wheelock also has opposed the idea at recent meetings of various town boards and committees.

On March 17, Buckley said putting the Conservation Commission in charge of the land would protect it while still giving the town the flexibility to decide other uses for the land in the future. On April 7, he voiced strong opposition to the wording of the proposed Article 17, saying, "What I'm not willing to do is put the care and custody of 200 acres in the hands of people from out of town."

We're all trying to do the right thing. We're trying to protect land," Selectmen Chairman Dino DeBartolomeis said at the April 7 meeting. "For me, the best protection is going to The Trustees [of Reservations]."

At the Board of Health's April 7 meeting, Wheelock called the CR a step that "is drastically taking away options for the future." He called the idea "heavy handed" and said any decision should wait until after the town prepares a new comprehensive plan. "I'm very surprised that this process has gotten this far," Wheelock said. "The whole 200 acres is way out of line." Wheelock said it "seems really risky" to put the land under the CR. "Forever is a long time," he added. What seems like a good idea today "may not be in the interests of future Milford," he said.

"Our concern is to protect the water supply," Chairman Kenneth Evans responded. "I personally think it's a good thing that we do something like this to protect the water." The eight parcels run from Louisa Lake to Interstate Route 495. "I'm in favor of it because of protecting the aquifer. We really don't want to add anything more to it," Town Planner Larry Duncan told that board. "I can't get my head around why anybody would object to protecting the water supply."

Two of the three Board of Health members – Kenneth Evans and Leonard Izzo – voted to support the conservation restriction, with Gerald Hennessy abstaining.

"These lands are some of the most sensitive in the Town of Milford and should be protected for future generations," said Reno DeLuzio – former Town Planner, chair of the Upper Charles Trail Committee and a member of the subcommittee that recommended the CR. "One way to guarantee that these lands would be protected for future generations would be to put them under the TTOR," he added.

Planning Board member Joseph Calagione, John Cook and Patrick Kennelly voiced concerns about the idea of the CR itself as well as what its wording will be. "It should go under Conservation [Commission] control. I just don't think it should be a third party," Kennelly said. Cook added, "I'd like to see what the restrictions would or wouldn't be. That document, to me, becomes very important."

"We're for the preservation of land, absolutely," said Chairman Marble Mainini. "It's how we're going to do it" that is the issue, he added. "I think the concept, most people can relate to. It's the details that are slightly fuzzy. Taxpayers bought the land. They just want to know what's going to happen to it."

What is a "Conservation Restriction"?

A conservation restriction – also referred to as a conservation easement or CR – is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or other qualified agency. It is a common method to help both private and public landowners maintain their property as protected open space, while retaining ownership of the land. Through a CR, the landowner gives up the development rights on the land while defining what the allowed and prohibited uses will be on that property.

A CR can be amended by all parties agreeing to it, as long as the underlying purpose of protecting the land remains, former Town Planner said at the April 8 Planning Board meeting.

The Trustees of Reservations have worked with communities and other conservation partners to assist in protecting 16,000-plus acres around the state. The Trustees hold CRs on properties owned by a variety of partners, including private landowners, municipalities, and other land trusts.

Why Would the Town Want a Conservation Restriction?

The draft wording of the town's proposed conservation restriction (CR) agreement for the 200 acres off Dilla St. lists six reasons for having the CR:

• Preservation of 200 acres of open space including Louisa Lake and approximately 1,000 feet of waterfront along the Charles River. The land also abuts 37 acres of land owned by the Milford Water Company;

• Maintenance of open areas used for passive recreation, visual enjoyment, and nature study, including the Louisa Lake recreation area and 1.4 miles of the Upper Charles Trail;

• Preservation of open space consistent with the goals of the town's 2002 Open Space and Recreation Plan to provide for the highest possible quality of life for the town's residents and confirm the town's commitment to regional resource conservation;

• Preservation of open space consistent with the goals and objectives of the town's 2003 Comprehensive Plan to protect open spaces that have high conservation or recreational values. Further, the Comprehensive Plan recommends that the town designate clearly significant parcels as permanently protected open space and to retain a greenway corridor connecting to the Town Forest and Louisa Lake recreation area;

• Preservation of public water supply areas immediately south of the land, and preservation of resource areas protected under the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act which are important to regional water quality, water supply and wildlife habitat; and

• Preservation of actual and potential habitat of species protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act and other wildlife habitat.


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