The Wildlands Trust would like to get the Community Preservation Committee’s stamp of approval on the purchase of the 140-acre O’Neil farm, but it is running out of members to talk to. The Wildlands Trust would like to get the Community Preservation Committee’s stamp of approval on the purchase of the 140-acre O’Neil farm, but it is running out of members to talk to.
Three members of the committee have a conflict of interest with the project and have recused themselves from any discussion and/or voting on the proposal, which seeks $1.5 million in Duxbury Community Preservation Act funds as part of the $4.3 million purchase of former town fire chief Carl O’Neil’s farm.
While the eventual decision to release the funds will be up to town voters, the CPA will give its recommendation or denial on this release at a future town meeting, most likely a special session in late spring.
Last Wednesday, the Wildlands Trust’s Executive Director, Mark Primack, was set to present the project to the remaining four members of the committee who did not have ties to his organization or the project. That formal presentation was put off as member Art Vautrain was out of town and unable to attend the meeting, leaving the group without quorum. Three other members of the committee ñ Diane Bartlett, George Wadsworth and Jody Hall ñ decided to call the group’s meeting to a recess and still allow Primack to make his presentation informally to those in attendance.
Recusing themselves from the presentation were members Holly Morris, who sits on the Trust’s board of directors, and Tony Kelso, who assisted the organization on researching the history of the farm. CPC member Pat Loring is Duxbury’s liaison to the Wildlands Trust and was not present at Wednesday’s meeting, but has said in the past she too will not participate in discussions on the project.
“We’ve contacted the state, the selectmen and [Town Manager] Rocco Longo to inform them we are recusing ourselves and to make sure we’ve covered all the bases,” said Morris.
Primack’s presentation to committee featured a short film on the project, including reflections from Duxbury residents about the town’s history of agriculture and outlined the conservation organization’s desire to preserve the last working farm on the South Shore.
The group is looking to keep O’Neil’s land as a farm, create open walking trails and make it an educational experience for children and area residents as well.
“This is not just an open space project, but something much larger than just to Duxbury and us ñ it’s the last opportunity to keep a working agricultural farm,” he said. “With the houses on the land, this is also a historical preservation project, so we are covering two out of the three CPA areas.”
Primack said that the project will guarantee that the land is protected in perpetuity and ownership of the land will not go to the town, but to a charitable corporation that will operate the farm and find a farmer or group to keep agriculture alive on the land after O’Neil’s passing.
Duxbury’s $1.5 million, he said, would purchase a conservation restriction on the land, which typically eliminates any development or subdivision potential.
In addition to Duxbury’s funds, Primack said that his organization has already received close to one million dollars from private donors. The Wildlands Trust is also beginning a community campaign to raise $300,000 this month, plans to apply for a $500,000 grant from the state and must also raise $1.1 million more from donors and from the organization itself.
Primack said he is confident that donors and the community will step forward to save what the organization calls “a developer’s dream.”
“I’m hopeful donors [will come forward] and we really want to involve the community in raising money because we want them to feel like stakeholders and not just watch [the purchase] happen,” he said.
Primack added that in terms of the state grant, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently did a soils survey on the land and graded over 80 percent of it as “prime” or “important,” meaning the farm can sustain a number of agricultural projects besides dairy production.
Revisiting Duxbury’s contribution to preserving the farm, Primack called it a “great financial bargain” for the town, in that while residents are being asked for $1.5 million, $750,000 comes directly from taxpayers and the other $750,000 comes from the state match of CPA funds.
“So this will cost the town $750,000,” said Primack. “There will be no future expenses to the town ñ that will all be taken care of by the charitable organization. This is the most significant open space project our generation will do in town and is a true conservation project.”
After Primack’s presentation and with the meeting still in recess, Wadsworth recommended that he make a presentation to the Conservation Commission to discuss it with them regarding environmental issues and any potential endangered species.
He also said that to him, the project seems to be preserving part of Duxbury’s history.
“Duxbury strikes me as the home of agriculture and ship building [in our area] and there are no active shipyards available for preservation, as many have gone out of business,” said Wadsworth. “I’m very enthused about the ability to preserve agriculture.”
Primack said he would make his presentation to Vautrain in person as well as to the Conservation Commission in the near future.
Wadsworth said that the remaining members of the committee who can vote on the recommendation of releasing funds will do so at their March 26 meeting.
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