104 acres pique town's interest

AMHERST – Selectmen are considering whether to pay nearly $2 million for 104 acres of open space that straddles the town line with Bedford.

The proposed purchase of land on Fellows Farm Road was discussed Monday during the first of two public hearings. Selectmen will hold another public hearing Dec. 1.

The town’s Open Space Advisory Committee is recommending the town buy the land from resident Gertrude W. Martin for $1.89 million, which was the market value as of Sept. 1. Martin wants to sell the property because she is moving.

Sixty-seven acres are in Amherst and 37 are in Bedford. The property includes a residence, an attached shed and barn, an unattached barn, a swimming pool and a tennis court.

The home dates to 1780, committee Chairman Bob Heaton said.

The committee recommends that if the sale goes through, the town should sell the land in Bedford to that town and also sell the home.

If the land in Bedford and the home are sold, the net cost of the purchase to Amherst taxpayers could be as low as $440,000, according to the committee.

If the town doesn’t make the purchase by the March town election, developers would certainly buy it, officials agreed.

The land in Amherst is zoned residential. To the north is a large tract of conservation land in Bedford called Pulpit Rock Reservation.

The Flume development is just south. The Flume is bordered by open space that connects to conservation land in Amherst and Bedford, including Joppa Hill Farm.

The committee is responsible for identifying, negotiating and recommending land deals to selectmen.

At the meeting, resident Bonnie Knott said she didn’t like the idea of the town carrying real estate, but Heaton said Martin wanted to unload the entire property at once and that the committee had no choice but to include the house in the purchase.

During a presentation, Heaton said the purchase would “protect the town’s rural character and natural resources and provide passive recreational opportunities.”

However, when asked by a reporter, Heaton wouldn’t rule out hunting on the property. He said the conservation commission would make decisions about uses.

“This land at this price is incredible,” Selectman George Infanti said. “If we don’t take it, somebody is going to, and I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Amherst resident Carolyn Quinn called the land “glorious.”

Selectmen have the authority to buy the land after the second public hearing is held Dec. 1.

In 2005, selectmen were given the authority to bond $5.5 million over a five-year period for open space. So far, selectmen have spent only $300,000.

That authority ends on June 30, 2010.

The money to buy the land would have to be bonded, and the first portion would be included in the coming year’s budget, selectmen said.

The length of the bond has yet to be determined. Heaton said it could be 20 to 30 years. The tax impact hasn’t yet been calculated.

The decision to buy the land would likely be made the week of Dec. 8 or Dec. 15, selectmen said.

However, if 50 residents sign a petition warrant article regarding the purchase, that would force voters to make the decision at Town Meeting in March.

The Bedford Conservation Commission unanimously supports the purchase of the land in Bedford and has recommended its purchase to the Bedford Town Council.

The Amherst planning board and conservation commission have voted unanimously to support the purchase.