CPC petitioned for conservation restriction

WESTFIELD – The owners of a golf course submitted a revised request to the Community Preservation Commission for compensation to place a conservation restriction that would prohibit any other use of that property.
Springfield Attorney William J. Murray presented the amended compensation petition on behalf of the Perez family which owns the 120-acre golf course on East Mountain Road. Several years ago the family has applied for a conservation restriction at a cost of $1.7 million, but amended that compensation to $750,000.
“We withdrew the $1.7 million proposal because it was something that could not happen,” Ted Perez Jr. said.
Murray said the family developed a back-up plan for the use of that property because of the recent history of bank foreclosures of golf courses due to the weak economy and the financial impact of the unpredictable New England weather on golf course revenue.
“The Perez family noticed the five golf course foreclosures, and that four others were sold to avoid foreclosure, that those club got behind because they did not have a back-up plan,” Murray said. “The family learned from the mistakes of those other courses.”
Murray said that the family commissioned R. Levesque Associates to develop a preliminary subdivision plan. The 120 acre site could accommodate development of 38 single-family houses on two-acre lots and a 60 apartment elderly complex. The family would retain ownership of the present banquet facility.
“The family is seeking to sell its development rights to the city so that land would always be open space, and would not be developed for residential purposes,” Murray said. “For $750,000, they would surrender the right forever to develop the property.”
The Community Preservation Commission is comprised of members from five other boards, commission and authorities, as well as two at large members. The ordinance, under which the city adopted provision of the Community Preservation Act, requires a member of the Planning Board, Conservation Commission, Historical Commission, Park & Recreation Commission and Housing Authority to serve of the CPC, representing their area of responsibility and bringing expertise to the board.
Planning Board members Chris Wilkie and Bill Onyski asked questions pertaining to the development of infrastructure needed to support that development plan, the actual area of “buildable” land and requested additional information on the feasibility of developing all or part of the golf course.
Perez said that there is presently a city road through the course that could be used to access areas to be developed. However, the Planning Board members said that road is inadequate for that proposed use and would need to be improved to meet the city’s subdivision requirements.
George Martin, a member of the Conservation Commission requested information pertaining to wetlands, riverfront buffers along the brook flowing through the course and several ponds used for irrigation and buffer from the nearby city drinking water wells. Martin also questioned the environmental impact on the brook and ponds if the road needed to be upgraded and the bridge over the brook widened.
Ted Perez said that 20 acres of the site are not suitable for development because of wetland regulations and restrictions. Perez said an alternate proposal is to keep the front nine holes on the north half of the course and develop only the second nine holes on the south half of the course which would reduce the conservation restriction cost.
At-large Commissioner Bill Porter said that the cost of the proposed golf course conversation restriction “would eat up all of the assets of the commission on this one project over the next three years.”
Principal Planner Jay Vinskey also raised the issue of state approval of applying CPA funds to purchase the golf course conservation restriction and that if approved, the state would impose conditions limiting the use of herbicides and pesticides to protect the Barnes Aquifer.
Perez said that the family has long maintained the course through environmentally-friend methods.
“We’ve always been cognitive of those restrictions. We do that already,” he said.
At-large Commission Joe Muto, who was elected to serve as chairman of the commission, requested a motion to continue the commission’s review of the petition to the next meeting on Thursday, Sept. 27, to allow the family to provide additional information in response to the issues raised by the board members.

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