Hollis voters OK land purchases

HOLLIS – The Land Protection Study Committee came out in full force at Thursday night’s Special Town Meeting to push for its No. 1 targeted land purchase, the 180-acre parcel known as Woodmont Orchard West.

Voters approved the $3.25 million purchase by a ballot vote of 405-268.

Residents spoke out on both sides before the vote.

Sherry Wyskiel, a member of Hollis Trails Committee, touted Woodmont as a place for families to enjoy. “It could be a place to gather to take kids sledding. We wholeheartedly hope you support . . . one of the reasons most people in town move here,” she said.

“I should be in favor of this purchase so that the entire town can pay taxes to improve my neighborhood. But our buying up all available land is becoming excessive. We embark on new ventures at the cost of those already in need,” said Jim Belanger, a longtime Hollis resident who lives next to the orchard.

This meeting was the town’s second attempt to buy Woodmont Orchard West, the eastern portion of which lies on the other side of Silver Lake Road/Route 122. A 2002 proposal to buy Woodmont failed by 50 votes.

Gerry Gartner, chairman of the Land Protection Study Committee, said this year’s proposal differs from the LPSC’s 2002 proposal in many ways. In 2002, the purchase would not have included land set aside for a potential seven-lot subdivision, plans for which had been submitted by Z & L Developers of Merrimack.

In 2001, the town attempted to buy part of the land to preserve it as open space, but was outbid by Z & L Developers, which offered to pay owners Robert and Stephen Lievens more than twice the appraisal price of the property. The developers eventually produced a proposal to construct 42 houses. Those homes were never built, and this year’s proposal was to purchase the entire parcel.

Earlier this year, resident Ronald “Robbie” W. Bunce Jr. told residents he planned to buy the orchard himself. But the check Bunce wrote as a deposit on the land bounced, according to Robert Lievens, and the deal fell through.

Part of what made Woodmont a priority purchase for the LPSC is its proximity to Silver Lake State Park and other conservation land, as well as its hiking trails.

According to Gartner, the 2006 tax impact of the Woodmont purchase using a 15-year bond with a 4 percent interest rate, would be $33 per $100,000 valuation, decreasing annually to $18 in 2021.

A second warrant article put before voters was to spend $825,000 on an 80-acre tract referred to by the LPSC as the Siergiewicz Forest land, at the juncture of Truell and Mooar Hill roads. The tract sits near about 300 acres that are already being protected north of South Merrimack Road.

Voters approved the Siergiewicz Forest land by ballot 192 to 79.

The land boasts stands of mixed hardwoods and pine, as well as some historic features. It also abuts other conservation areas.

LPSC members argued that the purchase would provide a zone of protection from development on Route 101A, and would provide a wildlife habitat. The land also abuts future potential land acquisitions, according to the LPSC.