THE TOWN has been awarded a $1,638,750 state grant that can be used to help purchase the Richardson Green property located at 1425 Main St. (Neil Ungerleider Photo)
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — The Baker-Polito administration has awarded the town a $1,638,750 grant in order to help Lynnfield purchase the Richardson Green property located on upper Main Street.
Lynnfield was awarded the grant as part of the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) grant program on Tuesday, Aug. 31. Gov. Charlie Baker created the MVP grant program through a 2017 executive order to help municipalities fight the local impacts associated with climate change. The program provides funds and technical support to communities in order to identify climate hazards, develop strategies to improve resilience, and implement priority actions in order to help municipalities adapt to climate change. The Baker-Polito administration released $21 million in MVP grants to cities and towns last week.
The Richardson Green parcel is classified as forestry land under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 61, which results in a reduction of property taxes as long as the land is not developed for residential use. Developer Angus Bruce and the Richardson Green group have come to terms on a $2.7 million purchase and sale agreement for the 20-acre parcel located at 1425 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.
Under Chapter 61, the town has the right to acquire the Richardson Green property or assign it to a nonprofit organization if the Select Board decides to exercise its right of first refusal. While municipalities typically have 120 days in order to exercise the right of first refusal, the COVID-19 state of emergency has extended the timeline.
Richardson Green abuts land owned by the Conservation Commission and the Lynnfield Center Water District, and the property is located in the Ipswich River Watershed.
A local advocacy group known as the Richardson Green Citizens’ Group has been urging the Select Board to exercise its right of first refusal because they are concerned that Bruce’s development would negatively affect the LCWD’s water supply and would result in over 3,200 trees being clear-cut. The citizens group and the Ipswich River Watershed Association (IRWA) are also concerned about the development’s impact on the watershed, which supplies drinking water to 350,000 North Shore residents. The national advocacy group American Rivers named the Ipswich River as the eighth most endangered river in the United States this past spring.
“This is a really great opportunity and is something Lynnfield needs right now,” said Planning Board Vice Chairwoman Kate Flaws, who is a member of the citizens’ group. “It serves a lot of public interests, including protecting the water supply that serves two-thirds of the town. It will also protect the tree canopy.”
In addition to the $1.6 million MVP grant, the Conservation Commission voted late last year to allocate $200,000 from its Conservation Fund for the Richardson Green land purchase. The Essex County Greenbelt Association has also committed to raising $300,000 for the land purchase. Greenbelt President Kate Bowditch said in a statement that the funds would be raised from “foundations, corporations and individuals in the community.”
“The upper watershed of the Ipswich River is a truly important place to protect, and the fact that this land will help ensure the quality and safety of public drinking water is a significant bonus,” said Bowditch.
Bowditch noted that the Richardson Green land could serve as a “gateway” to more than 500 acres of abutting conservation land owned by the Conservation Commission and the LCWD. She recalled that the town was recently awarded a $10,000 planning grant from the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (MAPC) that will be used to create a vision for a 500-acre area known as “Willis Woods.” She said Lynnfield, Peabody, Middleton and North Reading as well as Greenbelt and the IRWA are participating in the Willis Woods planning initiative.
“The recreational potential here is exciting, especially as part of the larger vision for the Willis Woods area,” said Bowditch. “Greenbelt looks forward to working with Lynnfield and other partners to raise private funds to complement funding sources that have already been committed and those that will be considered.”
Flaws concurred with Bowditch’s viewpoint.
“This is a great opportunity to provide walking trails for people to use,” said Flaws.
Town Administrator Rob Dolan informed the Villager that an additional $571,250 needs to be appropriated in order for the town to purchase the Richardson Green property.
“The Select Board will be reviewing and looking at additional funding options, and will be weighing the pros and cons,” said Dolan. “The significance of this grant has moved the Richardson Green issue to the forefront of the Select Board’s agenda.”
Select Board Chairman Dick Dalton informed the Villager that the board is “exploring” the purchase of Richardson Green.
“We are trying to get to the point where we can put something before the town for consideration,” said Dalton in an interview with the Villager.
The offices of House Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading) and State Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) helped organize a May 18 site visit that both lawmakers attended along with Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen A. Theoharides, local officials and representatives from Essex County Greenbelt and the Ipswich River Watershed Association.
“This land is critical to protecting Lynnfield’s water supply, but those protections would be seriously compromised by the proposed housing development,” said Jones in a statement emailed to the Villager. “This MVP grant is a testament to the many dedicated individuals who have been working tirelessly at the local level to ensure that Richardson Green is maintained as open space in perpetuity.”
Dalton thanked Jones for his “constant advocacy for Lynnfield.”
“This grant most certainly puts the town in an advantageous position as we consider the options before us,” said Dalton in a statement.
The Richardson Green Citizens’ Group launched a town-wide survey late last year in order to collect feedback about purchasing the property. Over 80 percent of responders stated that they believe it is “very important” for the parcel to remain as undeveloped forested conservation land.
“We are not against development, but we are against development in this area,” said Flaws.
If the town purchases the Richardson Green property, Bowditch said the town “will hold a permanent Conservation Restriction that will protect the land from conversion to other uses.”
“Greenbelt will own the property and will be responsible for creating, managing and maintaining a modest trailhead parking area, trails and directional signage,” said Bowditch. “This model of joint protection has been used successfully in other communities, and facilitates the shared goal of conservation while saving the town the costs associated with ownership and management.”