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Drew Gardens took center stage at special Town Meeting for a good portion of the Oct. 17 gathering.
A resolution seeking to “protect our investments in our Agricultural Preservation Restricted lands,” was introduced on the Town Meeting floor early in the evening prompting discussion.
Town Meeting opened a few minutes after 7 p.m. with a crowd of 316, widely exceeding the required quorum of 200. Voters acted upon 12 articles and two resolutions. All articles passed, but both resolutions failed.
An ongoing debate regarding 9 acres known as Drew Gardens spilled over onto Town Meeting floor when resident Juliette Mount brought a non-binding resolution to voters. The measure polarized the crowd with one group in favor and another arguing that such an impromptu measure did injustice to the voters.
“It seems to me inappropriate and unfair to bring something like this to Town Meeting with absolutely no notice to anyone, being revised and edited at the last minute before it goes up on the screen, and expecting us to make a last minute decision on it,” said George Murray.
But Marian Harman, an honorary director of the Westford Conservation Trust argued in favor of the resolution.
“This little piece of farmland has been protected by us in perpetuity, forever,” she said. “If we undermined this protection on this piece of property that would send a signal to other towns in Massachusetts and, in fact, to other states that they might be able to undermine APRs in their communities, as well… I urge you to vote in favor of this resolution.”
Mount is one of 13 who was appointed this spring to the Drew Gardens Task Force and charged with bringing a recommendation to selectmen on whether to support a proposed development of the land by Groton developer Ebrahim Masalehdan. Masalehdan wants to build a 19,000 square foot farm-to-table restaurant on a portion of the parcel. To do this, one of three 3-acre APRs would have to be amended and its change in use would require approval by Town Meeting voters as well as the commissioner of the state Department of Agricultural Resources and other state officials.
A faction in town is deeply opposed to the amendment, while four out of five selectmen support it. While Mount’s resolution failed 114 to 103, the debate is far from over. Masalehdan has said he will bring it back to Town Meeting in the spring. His attorney, Paul Alphen of Westford, argued Monday, that Masalehdan and he worked this summer with a subcommittee to find a productive way to use the property.
“Our client purchased the property with the understanding that he would obtain a certain amount of dialogue, cooperation with the town and we hope we don’t pull the rug out from underneath him,” Alphen said.
A second resolution, also related to Drew Gardens, was introduced by Joseph Mario who sought to ensure that any Town Meeting decision concerning the three APRs for the parcel at 66-68 Boston Road, would require a two-thirds vote. That measure also failed, 58 to 119.
Follow Joyce Pellino Crane on Twitter @joypellinocrane.