Around Town

Select Board to pursue special town meeting for North Pond land preservation

Many residents in town attended the Select Board meeting on Tuesday night to support preservation of open space adjacent to Congamond’s North Pond. (Photo by Greg Fitzpatrick)

SOUTHWICK – The Citizens Restoring Congamond (CRC) met with the Select Board on Tuesday night in the auditorium of the Southwick Town Hall to discuss the fate of preserving 146-acres of vacant land adjacent to North Pond from development.

“We’re asking the Select Board to designate $500,000 to preserve the North Pond property,” said CRC President Deb Herath.

The Community Preservation Committee (CPC) met on January 31 to vote on whether to allocate $500,000 from their account to put towards preserving the North Pond land. However, the vote was four people in favor and four people not in favor, causing the request not to pass.

“If the land is open for use, many will benefit,” said CRC member Beth Thomas. “I really hope you can overturn that decision.”

After the January 31 vote, the CRC announced that they would be establishing a petition in attempt to get 200 signatures from voting residents in order to overturn the CPC’s vote.

Despite that, the Select Board informed the CRC that they would rather have a warrant article drafted to go at a special town meeting instead of a petition. Due to the state informing the Franklin Land Trust that they have only until March 1 to have the $5 million raised, the Select Board believes setting up a special town meeting would be a quicker option to help avoid reaching the deadline from the state.

Last year, the land owner, Denise Leclair-Robbins did agree to a deadline extension to June 30, 2019, but the intentions from the state to have a March 1 deadline erased the June extension.

The Franklin Land Trust has been awarded several grants to help raise the money. In November of 2016, the Massachusetts Departments of Energy and Environmental Affairs as well as Fish and Wildlife awarded the Franklin Land Trust two grants that totaled $1.4 million.

According to the Franklin Land Trust, if preserving North Pond fails the state would like to take the $1 million that they awarded and use it towards another project in the commonwealth.

“I think the timing of this is going to be very critical,” said Select Board Vice-Chairman Russ Fox.

The Select Board added that they would be reaching out to the CPC to see if they can get them to reconsider approving the application request from the Franklin Land Trust for the $500,000. If the CPC doesn’t budge, the Select Board said the warrant article at the special town meeting would be drafted to show that the $500,000 would be coming out of the taxpayer’s money, not the CPC’s account.

Joe Deedy, Chairman of the Select Board, noted that they’re expecting to have an answer at their next meeting on February 19 and hopefully get a warrant article drafted up for a special town meeting to be held in early March.

During the discussions about North Pond on Tuesday evening, public comment was available for residents in attendance and many voiced their support for allowing the $500,000 to go to a special town meeting.

Michelle Pratt, who lives on Berkshire Ave. near North Pond, noted that it’s the CPC’s purpose to preserve the rural integrity of the town and didn’t feel that occurred at the CPC meeting.

“This town was not represented appropriately with this project,” said Pratt.

Citizens Restoring Congamond member Deb Herath speaks to the crowd about the importance of passing the $500,000 in funding to help preserve the vacant land next to Congamond’s North Pond. (Photo by Greg Fitzpatrick)

Pratt then went on to express her dissatisfaction with the outcome of the CPC vote.

“We want to be given our chance to vote,” said Pratt. “I don’t believe a 4-4 tie is a no vote, I believe it warrants further discussion.”

Having family that has owned land on North Pond since 1933, Kimberly Lamarche voiced her thoughts on the importance of preserving the 146-acre property.

“People need public access to our lake, that’s one of the few places left that people can access the lakes,” said Lamarche.

Resident Andrea Scully made positive remarks about the town’s water and the resources North Pond provides for that.

“I don’t know of any other place where I can drink water more safely than in town,” said Scully. “We need to protect our water supply at all costs.”

The Select Board informed those in attendance that even if the $500,000 was drafted into a warrant article at a special town meeting and passed, it would still put the Franklin Land Trust short about $1.2 million from the $5 million needed. The Franklin Land Trust would be the purchaser in the sale agreement if the land is preserved.

The Franklin Land Trust, along with fellow North Pond supporters are hoping that they can continue to continue discussions with the land owner. The plan is to get as close to the $5 million as possible and see if Leclair-Robbins will take a lower price. However, it has been the goal to raise $5 million due to the latest appraisal of the land being $5 million.

To Top