Hollis selectmen OK land appraisal

HOLLIS – Selectmen have not decided whether to recommend spending more than $4 million – the largest amount yet – on land conservation purchases.

With the Special Town Meeting to consider these potential land purchases just a couple weeks away, selectmen continued to discuss the proposal Monday.

Town voters will consider purchasing the 180 acres of Woodmont Orchard, often called the town’s northern gateway, as well as another 80 acres referred to as the Siergiewicz Forest Land located at Truell and Mooar Hill roads for a collective $4.2 million.

Selectmen agreed 5-0 Monday night to move forward with appraisals for the two properties, now that environmental studies have shown Woodmont Orchard will not need remediation for pesticide residue in the soil. Selectman’s Chairman Mark Johnson said the board expected to have the final appraisal figures available in time to present them to voters at the Dec. 16 Special Town Meeting.

However, moving forward with the appraisal was the only unanimous decision the board came to regarding land purchases.

“We’re looking at $4 million, and that’s going to affect our renovation of the town buildings – and (the renovations) are my priority,” Selectman Vahrij Manoukian said. “That’s why I have to think whether to endorse this or not.”

Manoukian speculated about whether the town should continue to “pre-approve” the amount of money set aside for land purchases. Starting in 2001, voters have determined the maximum they would be willing to spend on conservation land purchases at the annual Town Meeting in March.

Near the end of the year, after the Land Protection Study Committee has considered all of the available properties, the town has come together at a Special Town Meeting to consider whether to purchase the parcels presented to them. This year, the LPSC’s desired purchases would require about $4 million of the $5 million that was set aside by voters.

Johnson reminded the board Monday night that the town voted in March to increase the land conservation funds from a proposed $3.5 million (selectmen’s recommended amount) to the LPSC’s desired $5 million amount.

“The town spoke pretty strongly just a few months ago at Town Meeting that they want this,” Johnson said. “The LPSC are the people we appoint to find appropriate parcels.”

He added that town voters knew that town facility upgrades would be on the warrant in 2005.

“Don’t get me wrong. I am for buying land, but I know what my priorities are. (Fire and police personnel) are outgrowing their buildings,” Manoukian said.

Woodmont’s owners, Robert and Stephen Lievens, are offering the land to the town for about $3 million, pending the final appraisal. A similar proposal to buy the orchard in 2002 failed by 50 votes.

LPSC members recently said the parcel is the No. 1-targeted land purchase. LPSC Chairman Gerry Gartner has said if the town does not purchase the orchard, it would almost certainly be developed for housing.

The town is proposing spending $825,000 for the Siergiewicz Forest Land, pending appraisal figures.

The Special Town Meeting will be held Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. in the Hollis/Brookline High School auditorium.