Upton Buys Open Space on Sweetwilliam Farm
By Michelle Sanford Staff Reporter/Columnist · January 21, 2011
Upton voters purchased 60 acres of the Sweetwilliam Farm located on the western and eastern ends of the property. The 60 acres owned by the town plus another 27 placed under a conservation restriction will be used for passive recreation and open space.
By a mere three votes, Upton residents passed an article during a January 11 Special Town Meeting to purchase a portion of Sweetwilliam Farm. By a vote of 243 to 240, Upton residents supported the efforts of the Open Space Committee to buy the land. As a result, the town will own 60 acres of the 90-acre farm located on North St. The 60 acres purchased consists of two separate parcels of wooded land located at the rear western and eastern ends of the property; a 1,650 foot trail easement is necessary to link the two properties. Another 27 acres will be placed under a conservation restriction, and the remaining acres will be privately owned.
"I'm elated," said Open Space Committee Chair Mike Penko after the vote.
The total cost to purchase the land is $1,188,500, minus $574,000 from donations and a LAND grant. The remaining $614,500 will come out of the town's Community Preservation Act funding.
Prior to the vote, a number of residents and town officials spoke either supporting or opposing the purchase. Capital Budget Committee Chair Ken Glowacki stated that his Committee unanimously voted not to support the article because the estimated price of the property was too high. Initially, the land was priced at $1,288,500, but was dropped by $100,000 just days before the Special Town Meeting vote, which he said was still too high.
The Open Space Committee gave a presentation to the 523 attendees in the audience regarding the benefits of purchasing the farm, explaining its use for passive recreation activities such as hunting, hiking, horseback riding, and biking. According to Penko, the purchase would also ensure that Upton keeps one of its few remaining active farms and preserves, "one of the towns' most spectacular views."
Selectman Robert Fleming, speaking as a private citizen, candidly discussed why he opposed the purchase. According to Fleming, Upton has more than 4,000 acres of passive recreation land that is either state or town owned. He also listed the 10 town-owned passive properties, including Stefan's Farm, which according to data from the Board of Assessors, has a payment of $124,850 principal and $69,959 in interest still to be paid. "We've been paying for it for 10 years and have another 10 years to go," he noted.
Fleming also pointed out that throughout the last 25 years of Town Meetings, Upton has spent more than $3.7 million on passive recreation land. According to annual town reports dating back to 1985, this amount is more than the town has spent on the Council on Aging's annual operating costs for the last 25 years, the repair and maintenance of town roads, excluding Chapter 90 funds, and full time fire and EMS personnel in the last 25 years. Still, some residents argued that CPA funding cannot be put towards department budgets anyway.
Fleming felt CPA funding would be better used for projects including renovations to the Town Hall or Town Common. "At what point do we say there are other priorities?" he asked.
Resident Marsha Paul stated that the town was in need other activities besides passive recreational ones and questioned if ball fields and parks could be built on the property to which the answer was no.
Many who supported the purchase of the farm stated that Upton was a town of open spaces and agriculture and that's the reason they moved to town.
After more than two hours of discussion, a standing vote was taken and narrowly passed.
Other articles that passed included $15,000 transferred from free cash to the veteran's service expense account and $50,100 transferred from free cash to change a number of lighting fixtures on three municipal building to reduce energy consumption. Finally, an article was passed that will transfer $20,000 to each of the Community Preservation Act funding reserve accounts, including Historic Resources, Open Space, and Community Housing.