Voters had choice of land sizes for Hollis to purchase

HOLLIS – Voters got a sweet deal on a good chunk of land at Thursday night’s Special Town Meeting, supporters say.

For about $2.4 million, the town succeeded in protecting 137 acres from falling into the hands of interested developers.

The town has a unique funding method when it comes to purchasing land. At each annual Town Meeting, voters determine the maximum amount the town can spend on land. Residents must then authorize each individual land purchase before the bonds expire Dec. 31.

During the past two years, the town has used only about 35 percent of the land money available. This year, officials said, there was an abundance of desirable land to be had.

The town already has protected 240 acres in the past 12 months, not including the parcels on Thursday night’s warrant, according to the Land Protection Study Committee.

First on the warrant was the 60-acre Wright property on Wheeler Road.

“Adding this piece of land is really exciting,” said Trails Committee Chairwoman Sherry Wyskiel. “(This property) can be used to protect wildlife. The trails are used year-round.”

Some residents were not so excited to spend their tax money on the land.

“Number one, the price is excessive. You say you’re concerned with linkage (between protected lands). That land’s not connected to anything,” said Edward McDuffee of Pepperell Road.

“Number two, there’s a lot of seniors in this town, and I don’t think they do a lot of hiking. There’s a lot of land that’s hikeable. We should use that money for other things.”

McDuffee was in the minority: the Wright article passed, 214-30.

Voters had their choice of portion sizes for the second and third articles on the warrant.

Originally, town officials intended to purchase both the 40-acre Walker Tree Farm on Farley Road and the 42-acre Hall property on Blood Road and then resell small portions of each to recover costs.

In the case of the Walker Tree Farm, the Land Protection Study Committee found that reselling a 5-acre portion for a single-house lot would only save the average homeowner about $6 a year in property taxes.

Voters approved amending the article to exclude language giving the town the right to develop any part of the parcel. The article passed as amended, 199-28.

The committee recommended a different scenario for the Hall property. With 31 acres of tillable farmland and views extending almost 40 miles to the east, members said there was an interest in preserving the agricultural use and appearance of the parcel.

Many of those present at the meeting referred to the property as a “gateway to Hollis.”

If the town had voted to buy the entire 42-acre parcel outright, as it did with the Walker property, it would have cost the town $375,000 more than the original article.

The article was changed to allow the Hall family to retain ownership of 5 acres and to delete a clause allowing the town to resell 10 acres. The family would use the 5 acres to create a single farmstead, bringing the town’s share of the land down to 37 acres.

This version of the article also saved the town about $180,000 over what it would have paid had it approved the original article.