Neighbors and other nature lovers have just a few days left to put together a deal that would preserve a significant piece of land along a trail near the town center.
Following a special meeting of the Board of Selectmen, a local group of citizens now have until Friday to bring forth financing information regarding their role potentially purchasing part of 64 Main St., a parcel abutting the Tom Paul Trail near the Roudenbush Center and J.V. Fletcher Library.
A purchase and sale agreement was made on the property, also known as the Agnew Parcel, earlier this year. However, due to a conservation restriction on the land, the town has 90 days to exercise its right of first refusal on purchasing the property itself to maintain in a natural state.
That 90 day period expires on June 13, only ten days after Tuesday’s meeting, although citizens’ group spokesperson Kevin Cripanuk says that the $700,000 needed will be in place before the deadline.
Cripanuk told the board that $400,000 would be obtained from the sale of property, with the house on the property being split off in separate a four acre chunk, $85,000 would be obtained from a grant facilitated through the Sudbury Valley Trustees, and the other $215,000 would come from fundraising.
In the past week, Cripanuk and the group has already garnered $110,000 of the $215,000. However, Selectmen were skeptical that a plan on how to obtain the rest of the money could be finalized by Friday, which board members said would be a deadline for them to look over any information for next week’s meeting, which in itself would be the final date they could take action.
Likewise, they had concerns with the $85,000 grant, which Cripanuk said may not come for several months.
The Selectmen had these concerns due to the fact that they were also considering granting their right of first refusal to the Westford Conservation Trust (WCT) a non-profit group unaffiliated with the town that manages several trails throughout Westford, with the citizens’ group giving the money to the WCT
With the right of first refusal under the WCT’s control, only 70 percent of the property would have to be held under conservation rather than all of it, but the WCT would be held liable if the money did not come through.
Additionally, the Conservation Commission would use Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to give to the pool of money that would be in the WCT’s hands, which they would give to the current property owners, who would sell the new four acre parcel separately.
WCT spokesperson Ron Gemma said that his group hopes it can help, but everything would need to be completely secure in the complicated deal due to a lack of money the group would have otherwise that could complete the deal.
“I’ve been surprised before,” said Gemma. “When I was approached a week ago, there were some assumptions regarding values, so I was doubtful at that time. But they were corrected, so if I can be given a $700,000 check, then this could happen. Otherwise, the Trust couldn’t act.”
According to Cripanuk, he’s gotten 25 families that use the trail and live near the trail to donate so far, and there will be plenty more that can help, including an additional $85,000 worth in case the grant money does not come through.
Despite the complexity and time restraints, he believes that this deal can happen.
“It was exciting for the trust to step up and give us a chance, because without them, we wouldn’t be able to do anything,” he said. “And it was good to see support from members of the board itself letting us have the time to try and do this. They clearly see a community coming together that wants to preserve the quiet spaces along the trails in Westford.”
A decision will be made on transferring the right of first refusal during the Selectmen’s June 10 meeting. If given, the money would have to be transferred to the property owner within 90 days of June 10.