By Brenda Crowell
More than 600 people turned up for Upton’s Annual Town Meeting, held on Thursday, May 5,, due mostly to strong interest in Article 23 on the warrant, which sought to authorize the Board of Selectmen to acquire 94.22 acres of land located off Mechanic and Fowler Streets.
The motion, which was born from a remote Select Board meeting that had more than 140 Zoom participants on March 15, passed overwhelmingly. It generated a great deal of interest from residents after Saxon Partners made a purchase offer to the property owners with the intention of building a 200-plus unit affordable housing apartment building there.
Land Use Stewardship Committee Chairman Marcella Stasa made the motion on the article, which specified that the land would be acquired for open space and recreation purposes.
The article requested up to $353,462 from the Community Preservation Open Space Unreserved Fund balance and $389,538 from the Community Preservation Open Space Fund balance, with the remainder of the purchase price being funded by gifts and/or grants, and the expenditure of the Community Preservation monies contingent upon the town receiving at least $200,000 in gifts and/or grants.
Bill Taylor, Chair of the Open Space Committee, explained that the land is enrolled in Chapter 61, which means that the town has a first refusal option on any offer made by a buyer who intends to change the land’s use.
According to Taylor, the town has until June 10 to exercise its option to purchase the land, which is appraised at $900,000, the same as the offer from Saxon Partners.
“The total cost of the project is $943,000,” Taylor said. “That’s $900,000 for the land and $43,000 for survey, legal, and environmental review costs.”
Funding for the purchase will come from a $50,000 donation from Sudbury Valley Trustees, at least $150,000 in private donations, and $743,000 from the Community Preservation Fund.
“When we use Community Preservation Fund money to acquire land, we have to put a conservation restriction on it,” said Taylor. “In this case, Sudbury Valley Trustees will hold that restriction.”
Cemetery Commissioner Glenn Fowler asked to amend the motion to remove the conservation restriction so that the land would be able to be used for other purposes in the future. Finance Committee Co-Chair Paul Flaherty explained that in order to purchase the land without a conservation restriction, a different source of funding outside of Community Preservation Act funds would need to be used, and Fowler’s proposed amendment did not specify an alternate source of funds.
Economic Development Committee member David Brooks said that he agreed with the acquisition of the land, but warned against seeing it as a solution to prevent affordable housing from being built in Upton.
“People of Upton, understand – if you keep buying up land to prevent 40B housing, 40B housing will be forced upon us whether we like it or not. We will have no say in the matter.”