Published in the January 6, 2021 edition.
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — A number of residents said they are in favor of the town acquiring the Richardson Green property on upper Main Street during a public meeting held by the Board of Selectmen on Monday.
Developer Angus Bruce and the Richardson Green group have come to terms on a $2.7 million purchase and sale agreement for a 20-acre parcel of undeveloped land located at 1325 Main St. Bruce originally proposed developing the property as part of the Woods of Lynnfield elderly housing project that the 2019 April Town Meeting rejected. He is now looking to build 15 single-family homes on the property as part of a proposed development called Hannah’s View Estates.
The state’s Chapter 61 law gives the town the right to acquire the Richardson Green property or assign it to a nonprofit organization if the selectmen decide to exercise its right of first refusal. Over 60 residents attended the public hearing that was held on Zoom teleconference.
Merrow Road resident Ken MacNulty, who serves on the Ipswich River Watershed Association board of directors, noted that the property is located within the watershed and abuts land owned by the Lynnfield Center Water District.
Patrice Lane resident Pat Campbell said she is in favor of acquiring the property because she said the town needs to “preserve open space, trees and the area near the Ipswich River Watershed.” She also expressed concerns about “relentless development” that has occurred in town over the last decade.
“Citizens know that if this continues, this town will no longer have the characteristics we moved here for,” said Campbell. “It is both fiscally and ethically prudent to acquire Richardson Green while such a golden opportunity is available.”
Merrow Road resident Gianna Wilkins said she and her husband moved to Lynnfield because the town’s open space, trees and wildlife made it a “quaint small town.”
“A lot has changed in the last 14 years,” said Wilkins. “While we are concerned about the development in town that is happening in general, we suffer from the water issues every summer with the Ipswich River. We think exercising the right of first refusal is the right thing to do on many levels.”
Munroe Street resident Alison McKendree expressed concerns about what will happen to the wildlife that live on the Richardson Green property if it gets developed.
“Conservation is not a nice to have, it is a must have,” said McKendree. “If we develop this property, we are in theory losing over 3,000 trees. Just consider how long it took for those trees to grow compared to how fast you can put up a housing development.”
Conservation Commission Chairman Don Gentile recalled that the ConCom voted “enthusiastically” at a meeting last November to recommend that the town acquire the Richardson Green property. He said the ConCom voted to allocate over $200,000 from its Conservation Fund to help finance the proposed land purchase.
“We believe it’s an amazing opportunity to conserve a large area of land,” said Gentile. “There are people who know Lynnfield better than I do who say this might be one of the last large tracts of land that we might be able to preserve. At the last couple of Town Meetings, you have heard the complaints about the subdivisions, clear-cutting and development. This would certainly avoid that. In addition, it might help alleviate some of the issues that we have seen at Lynnfield Center Water District. It seems like a win-win from all angles.”
Friendship Lane resident Holly Ciampa said she lives across the street from where the Sagamore Place subdivision is being constructed, and said a lot of wildlife has been displaced since the land has been clear-cut. Developer Angus Bruce is looking to connect the Sagamore Place subdivision he is currently building to his proposed Hannah’s View Estates subdivision.
“I moved here 14 years ago,” said Ciampa. “I love this part of town. I support conserving the trees, the wildlife and the foresting of Lynnfield.”
Homestead Road resident David Henriques noted that he is studying Environmental Science at Clark University.
“Forests help store water,” said Henriques. “When forests are converted into concrete, that is no longer permeable. Keeping forests in suburban areas are crucial to help mitigate climate change.”
Tree Committee member Melanie Lovell said acquiring the Richardson Green property “is an important opportunity for our town to show our commitment to preserving the town’s natural resources.”
While Finance Committee member Kevin Sullivan said he supports the “principle” of acquiring the property, he noted that the town has large capital projects on the horizon including a new public safety building and a new library. He suggested that the town partner with the Lynnfield Initiative For Elders, Inc. (LIFE) in order to help offset the cost of the $2.7 million purchase price.
“I do support it, but I hope we could make it work a little bit differently financially,” said Sullivan. “I thought LIFE would be a good solution because there is still a need for LIFE housing.”
Planning Board member Kate Flaws, who has been leading a citizens’ advocacy group that has urged the town to acquire the property, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has created budgetary challenges for municipalities across the state. She said there are state and federal grants available that the town could apply for in order to offset the purchase price. In addition to launching a fundraising campaign, she also said two house lots could be sold in order to help finance acquiring Richardson Green.
“We are not looking for the town to bear the entire burden of the purchase price,” said Flaws. “We are going to pursue every opportunity to get funding from private sources and public sources. I think we are being pragmatic.”
If the town decides against acquiring Richardson Green, Flaws said the Planning Board will have no choice other than approving the 15-lot subdivision.
“There is nothing we will be able to do,” said Flaws. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Historical Commission Chairman Kirk Mansfield said the commission supports acquiring Richardson Green.
“It may not be a huge piece of land, but it is a very important piece of land,” said Mansfield. “The town is becoming somewhat overdeveloped. We are losing the trees, the character and all of the charm with all of this building.”
While all of the residents who spoke were in favor of acquiring the property, Bruce urged the selectmen not to exercise the right of first refusal. He maintained there is “no environmental plus to this property.”
“This is a marginal forest,” said Bruce. “The perception that this is a crucial piece of property is being misconstrued.”
Bruce also noted that LCWD ratepayers will be voting on a $9-9.5 million capital improvement project this spring in order to address the district’s water quality and quantity issues.
“You are going to have more important things to spend the money on,” said Bruce.
After the public hearing concluded, the selectmen voted to take the matter under advisement. Selectmen Chairman Chris Barrett thanked all of the residents who spoke during the Zoom teleconference call and have written letters to the board.
“We have had a number of wonderful people reach out to us about this,” said Barrett.
Barrett encouraged residents to continue emailing the board and Town Administrator Rob Dolan their viewpoints about acquiring the property.