Open space gets board approval

HOLLIS – Selectmen voted Monday night to recommend spending more than $4 million to preserve 260 acres of open space.

The board voted 4-1 in favor of recommending the $3.25 million purchase of the 180-acre Woodmont Orchard parcel, located on Silver Lake Road. The board also voted 3-2 to recommend purchasing an 80-acre tract referred to as the Siergiewicz Forest Land, located at Truell and Mooar Hill roads. The items will be put to public vote at next week’s Special Town Meeting.

Although it is not legally necessary, selectmen have generally made recommendations on warrant articles that have a financial impact. The selectmen’s recommendation appears on the printed warrant.

“Sometimes, if you don’t give an opinion, you give the wrong impression that either you’re sitting on the fence or you don’t really support (the warrant article in question),” Selectman’s Chairman Mark Johnson said.

Selectman Richard Walker, the lone dissenter on the Woodmont purchase, said he had done some “soul searching” regarding the purchases in recent weeks.

“What we’re really talking about here is a 20-year bond that will cost a quarter of a million (dollars) a year. We’re asking an awful lot of our taxpayers. I can’t support it,” he said.

Walker said the town is facing a 40 percent projected increase in the town portion of the 2005 tax rate and voters have other priorities to consider.

“We need to bite the bullet on (renovating) our town buildings,” he said. “It’s time.”

Selectman Vahrij Manoukian, who has also spoken against the Woodmont purchase in recent weeks, favored acquiring the land Monday night.

Recent environmental studies commissioned by the town have shown Woodmont Orchard will not need remediation for pesticide residues. land is safe, that changed my mind,” Manoukian said.

Selectmen will not have the final appraisal figures for the two parcels in time for the Special Town Meeting, as they had previously hoped.

However, selectmen said if voters approve the purchases and the appraisals come back higher or lower than the amounts approved, the town would not offer owners more than the appraisal price.

Johnson said the tax impact of the Woodmont purchase on a $350,000 home would be an additional $144 a year according to Hollis Budget Committee estimates. Johnson, Peter Band and Ray Lindsay voted to recommend the Woodmont purchase.

Band, Lindsay and Johnson also voted to recommend the proposed $825,000 purchase of the Siergiewicz Forest Land, pending appraisal figures. Manoukian and Walker voted against recommending the sale.

“To me, a landlocked land has no value,” Manoukian said. “This land, to get to it, you need a map. If we have $5 million, we don’t have to spend everything we have buying everything that’s available.”

Manoukian was referring to the $5 million voters set aside for land purchases in March. Since 2001, voters have determined the maximum they would be willing to spend on conservation land purchases at the annual Town Meeting.

After the Land Protection Study Committee has considered all of the available properties, the town votes at a Special Town Meeting on purchasing the parcels. This year, the LPSC’s desired purchases would require about $4 million of the $5 million that was set aside.

Band said the Siergiewicz parcel’s location made it no less valuable as far as the town’s objectives.

“Yes, it’s landlocked, but it’s readily available to be developed,” he said. “Beyond the economics of it, it does serve as a part of the (LPSC’s) strategic vision to expand the greenway and it does help to preclude development. I think it makes a lot of sense.”

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