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Voters to decide use for Brainard Road property


May 9, 2013
By Chris Maza

chrism@thereminder.com

WILBRAHAM — At the Annual Town Meeting on May 13, residents will be asked to vote whether the Board of Selectmen should be allowed to pursue the sale of town-owned property located on Brainard Road that was designated as surplus land.

A two-thirds vote will be needed to pass the warrant article.

The land has been targeted by Pecoy Homes and Mile Oak Associates as part of a re-configuration of the Cedar Ridge development on Stony Hill Road.

The land in question, which measures 19 total acres, is currently surrounded on three sides by Cedar Ridge land. According to literature distributed to the community by Pecoy, if the company was to purchase the 19 acres of land in question, it would use 17 acres to build 203 single-family homes, returning two acres to the town to act as a buffer.

The company also asserts that the new configuration would allow for the salvaging of 25 acres of currently undeveloped Cedar Ridge property known as the Pine Grove from being built upon.

"The reconfiguration would also trigger Mile Oak to convey 25 acres that it owns at the rear of the property to the town of Wilbraham for permanent conservation, connecting contiguous open space," the two-page publicity document states. "Mile Oak's owners will be able to convey the 25 acres in the Pine Grove only if they are the successful bidder for the 19 acres of surplus town-owned land."

The company also stated that the new configuration would allow the developers to build adequate housing without erecting three-story condominiums, which are currently allowed under its current permit.

However, there is opposition to the sale of the land and the development.

"This is not a project that is in the best interest of the residents of Wilbraham," Brian Fitzgerald, a resident and member of the Wilbraham Hiking Club, said. "It will have a significant negative impact on the rural character of the town and heavily increase traffic on Stony Hill Road."

Fitzgerald went on to say that the land is currently used for passive and active recreation.

"[The land] has been dismissed as 'underutilized' land even though it is often used by hikers, runners, dog-walkers, cross country skiers, horseback riders, and snowshoers," Fitzgerald said. "You will hear it called 'excess' land, despite Money Magazine listing Wilbraham in its 2007 list of 'Top 100 Best Places to Live' partially because of our 'large areas of preserved open spaces.'"

Pecoy also stated in its literature that the completion of Cedar Ridge would represent $1 million in additional tax revenue.

"This is new revenue for the town, representing 3 percent of the town's annual operating budget," the flyer reads.

Fitzgerald questioned the financial benefit of the development, stating the extra service needs of the development might outweigh the additional revenue.

"You will be told that selling this land will bring in much-needed tax revenue," he said. "In fact, according to a review by the American Farmland Trust of many cost of community services studies, including studies in 10 Massachusetts towns, the median cost to provide public services for residential developments is $1.19 for every dollar of revenue they raise, versus just 37 cents to maintain open space."

While there has been talk regarding what might happen to the land, Planning Director John Pearsall said to his knowledge, "no decision has been made on that site" by the Board of Selectmen or the Planning board and the vote does not guarantee or approve the sale to any party, whether it be Pecoy or another interested bidder.

"You can't do that kind of sweetheart deal in Massachusetts, according to state law," he said. "Assuming [the warrant article] passed, the Board of Selectmen would have to vote to dispose of the property, similar to what they did with the old Grange Hall. From there, it would have to go through a bid process with sealed proposals and the selectmen would award the bid to the best proposal."

Pearsall added that while he knew Pecoy was interested in placing a bid, he was unsure as to whether any other party had any interest in the land.

If the selectmen decided to sell the land and Pecoy was successful in securing the bid, the developers would have to go back to the Planning Board to secure a new permit.

Board of Selectmen chair Robert Boilard referred all questions regarding Cedar Ridge to Selectman Robert Russell, whom he said was involved in discussions regarding the issue. Russell did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

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