Uncertainty about a parcel known as Drew Gardens hampered a decision among members of the Agricultural Commission, causing them to postpone a key decision for voters.
The Agricultural Commission delayed a vote, March 6, on whether to recommend a controversial land-related petition at annual Town Meeting.
The commissioners said they were unsure of what the wording on the petition meant and would seek clarification from town officials.
“Does it authorize the selectmen to do a negotiation or does it authorize the selectmen to make this specific change to the APR?” said member Bob Boonstra.
On Feb. 28 selectmen voted to recommend that the article be dismissed on annual Town Meeting floor on March 25.
The 9-acre parcel, at 66 Boston Road, is the focus of a struggle between a group of land preservationists and a Groton developer who wants to build a farm-to-table restaurant on about 3 acres. But to do this, Ebi Masalehdan would need Town Meeting authorization to amend Agricultural Preservation Restriction #3, approved by voters at the 1996 annual Town Meeting.
Between 1997 and 1999, the town paid $525,000 to resident Keith Bohne for three APRs giving them the right of first refusal to purchase the land, the development rights and the promise the parcel would remain as farmland in perpetuity. Bohne no longer owns the land but presently sits on the Agricultural Commission.
“I’m conflicted about this whole thing,” he said, referring to whether the commission should recommend developing the parcel or keeping it as farmland. “The basic questions have not been answered.”
Amending APR#3 would set a precedent in the state.
“To the best of our knowledge the only ‘amendments’ to APRs that have occurred in the past have been corrections to property descriptions,” said Katie Gronendyke, spokesman for the state Department of Agricultural Resources.
Wording of the Citizen’s Petition
Article 19, filed by Masalehdan’s attorney, Paul Alphen, seeks to change the definition of agricultural use. It is worded, in part, as follows:
“The undersigned registered voters of the Town of Westford hereby petition the Board of Selectmen of the Town of Westford in accordance with the provisions of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 39, Section 10, to place the following Article on the Warrant for the 2017 Annual Town Meeting:
To see if the Town will vote to authorize the Board of Selectmen to amend the Agricultural Preservation restriction recorded with Middlesex North District Registry of Deeds in Book 10124, Page 169 (“APR 3″) and on file with the Town Clerk, in accordance with the agreement by and between the Town of Westford acting by and through its Board of Selectmen, a municipal corporation with a business address of 55 Main Street, Westford, Massachusetts and Westford Gateway, LLC, a Massachusetts limited liability company with a business address of 31 Progress Ave., Tyngsborough, Massachusetts, as successor in title to Ebrahim Masalehdan, which agreement is dated January 12, 2016, and as most recently amended…”