City, golf course seek land deal

WESTFIELD – The Community Preservation Commission and the owners of the East Mountain Country Club agreed Thursday night that a conservation restriction on the 120-acre golf course will benefit the community, as well as the owners.
The Perez family is seeking $750,000 in compensation, money that would prevent residential or commercial development on the land, much of which overlies the Barnes Aquifer, in perpetuity.
Springfield Attorney William J. Murray presented the commission with a new appraisal of the land, both its value as a golf course and its value if sold for residential development. The present value of the golf course is about $1.5 million, while its value, if developed for residential use, is over $3.3. The delta between the two appraisals is almost $1.8 million and would usually be the value of the conservation restriction.
However, Murray said the Perez family realizes that the city cannot afford to buy the conservation restriction at that cost and has amended that compensation to $750,000. Murray said the payment will allow the current generation of the family, Ted Jr., and Mark, to continue to operate the business until they are ready to retire and then sell the country club because the third generation of the family has no interest in a career in golf course management.
The conservation restriction, and its conditions, would permanently prevent any other use of the land, which is located a short distance from city drinking water wells, except as a golf course.
The commission endorsed the concept of purchasing the conservation restriction for $750,000, but shied away from committing its community preservation funds to the deal because it would drain funding being considered for other projects across the city, unless the $750,000 payment is phased or if the cost shared with other city departments or with the communities drawing water from the Barnes Aquifer.
City Planner Jay Vinskey said the commission cannot commit future funding to the project.
“You can’t spend money you don’t have yet,” Vinskey said.
The board also considered asking the Water Department to participate by seeking funding from the state to protect the water quality of the aquifer which serves four communities in the region.
“Water quality grants specifically prohibit funds from going to golf courses,” Vinskey said to the commission members.
Commissioner Bill Porter suggested the family close the course, which might qualify the site for other state and federal grant programs.
“Based on the current condition of the golf industry and that the value of the course may be relatively small, the family may want to consider if there was no golf course in operation, there may be other funds available,” Porter said.
Murray rejected that idea.
“If they can’t operate a golf course, they might just as well start building houses,” Murray said. “They want the golf course or they’ll sell the land.”
Commissioner George Martin suggested the three-year appropriation proposal, which Murray said might be a viable option if the city can work out a binding agreement to protect both the family and the city.
“If we can split (over several years) the funding, the project is worth doing,” Commission Chairman Joe Muto said. “We just don’t want to wipe out the account by making one large payment.”
Murray said the family would accept an approach that divides the course into three 40-acres sections with a separate conservation restriction for each.
“If the Committee wants to stretch out the payments over three years, we’ll find a way to do it,” Murray said.
However, Murray said, there is an additional cost to that approach in that there would have to be an appraisal for each segment of the course, a cost that the owners should not have to pay. The cost of the appraisal presented last night was $4,000, Murray said.
Vinskey said that the Community Preservation Law allows the commission to fund appraisals of property being evaluated for conservation restrictions.

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