, Newburyport, MA

April 24, 2014

Vote yes on Atherton land article

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

West Newbury’s trails and open spaces are the envy of surrounding towns, both because we have miles of trails on town land, and because of the many landowners who have preserved hundreds of acres of open space through trail easements, conservation and agricultural restrictions and gifts of land to nonprofit land trusts like Greenbelt.

At Town Meeting, April 28, West Newbury voters have an opportunity to help Greenbelt preserve 23 acres by authorizing $25,000 from community Preservation Act (CPA) open space funds to purchase a conservation restriction (CR) on the Atherton property. The town’s acquisition of the CR would help Greenbelt raise the funds needed for Greenbelt’s purchase of the land from the Atherton family.

The argument has been made that 21 of the 23 acres are already protected with a CR and trail easement, and that the 2 acres left unrestricted by the Athertons for a future building lot on Pikes Bridge Road would prove too costly to access.

While it’s true that 21 acres are protected (though still privately owned by the Atherton family), due diligence conducted by Greenbelt supports the feasibility of developing the unrestricted acres. Greenbelt consulted local attorney Don Greenough, who determined that because the town did not formally abandon Pikes Bridge Road, “… the traffic restriction (on Pikes Bridge Road) should not affect the ability to develop the Atherton lot.”

Greenbelt also hired an experienced, independent appraiser, whose analysis required verifying the feasibility of accessing the house lot. He determined that building a house was not only feasible, but made economic sense. His final valuation of the 23 acres, $265,000, was the value after deducting the cost of paving Pikes Bridge Road from Garden Street to the house lot.

Greenbelt’s proposed purchase of the 23-acre Atherton property, with its Atherton Connector Trail linking Indian Hill Street to Pikes Bridge Road, will complete another strand of West Newbury’s own emerald necklace: protected lands and public trails that link the hill, ponds, and streams all across town, and provide great opportunities for walking, riding and other passive recreation.

Its purchase by Greenbelt would ensure that a residence will not disrupt the solitude and beauty of the existing trail, which crosses through the heart of the 2-acre unrestricted area and would have to be moved to accommodate development. A residence would require reopening Pikes Bridge Road to vehicular traffic. “Warbler Alley” along Pikes Bridge Road provides some of the best birding in the state.

We should not let this opportunity pass us by. Please vote yes on Article 13 on the Special Town Meeting warrant at West Newbury’s Annual Town Meeting, April 28, to contribute $25,000 in CPA funds toward acquiring a new CR on the Atherton property that eliminates this 2-acre building lot, and help Greenbelt complete the protection of this beautiful parcel of land and its public trails.

Deb Hamilton

West Newbury