NEWBURY — The town has an opportunity to own a portion of one of its most historic properties — the old Plummer homestead on the Lower Green. Town officials were given written notice Sept. 12 that the owners of 277 High Road intend to sell the entire 6.4-acre parcel.
In a purchase-and-sale agreement dated Sept. 3, James Connolly, trustee of the Parker River Valley Trust, agreed to sell to Mark DePiero and John Morris a 1.5-acre portion of the property that includes the centuries-old Plummer family home and barn.
A separate agreement between the seller and buyers states the remaining 5.5 acres, consisting of Lots 2 through 6 and a small section of Lot 1, will be sold for $1.6 million.
Because this second portion of the property — at the corner of the green at the nexus of High and Cottage roads — was under a Chapter 61A agricultural tax classification, the town has the right to purchase it if it can match the agreed selling price.
Unfortunately for local historic preservationists and history buffs, the home on which 10 generations of the Plummer family lived is located on a portion of the property that was not under Chapter 61A, so the town has no right of first refusal.
The Board of Selectmen, assessors, Planning Board and Conservation Commission received a written notice Sept. 12 from Connolly of his intention to sell the 5.9 acres that was under Chapter 61A.
“The proposed use of the land upon sale is for five single-family residential dwellings to be located on lots 2 through 6. The portion of lot 1 to be sold will remain with lot 1 for use in connection with the existing single-family dwelling located on lot 1,” the notice states.
At a meeting Tuesday, selectmen agreed to hold a public hearing to discuss the property Dec. 10 at 7:15 p.m. at the town offices.
Under the state’s Chapter 61A statute, selectmen have 120 days to act on their right of first refusal. This right may only be acted upon after “a duly noted public hearing.”
Their options are to agree to purchase the property; to assign their rights over to a nonprofit entity, such as the Essex County Greenbelt Association or the state; or to waive the right and let the private sale go through as planned.
If selectmen vote to exercise their option, a town meeting to authorize the purchase and appropriate the money must be held within 120 days, according to the law.
Abutter Bruce Webster said selectmen should be aware that a Plummer family cemetery and well are on the land that is under Chapter 61A, but neither are present on the map provided by the seller.
Selectwoman Alicia Greco said she wondered what changes the buyers have in mind for the Plummer home and barn. Town Planner Martha Taylor said the house is to be restored while the barn would be renovated into a residence and moved back from the street, but no plans have been submitted to the town.
“I hope there is still something that can be done,” said abutter Lon Hachmeister, who serves as treasurer for the Historical Commission.
“This would be just a travesty,” he added, noting the historical nature of the property. Ownership of the land by the Plummer family dates back to Newbury's first settlers, who came over from England on a ship called the Mary and John and eventually ended up at Parker River.
“In later years this land became part of the ‘substantial Plummer Homestead’ of Mrs. Maria Plummer Humphreys and is a fine example of the country homes of by-gone days, with great chimneys, immense fireplaces, and solid construction,” according to information provided at the selectmen’s meeting.
Selectmen Chairman JR Colby curbed the discussion Tuesday night, saying it would be best to have questions raised and answers given during the public hearing in December.
He noted the numerous historically significant properties that West Newbury has been able to preserve thanks to that town’s adoption of the Community Preservation Act tax surcharge — something Newbury voters have rejected adopting in the past — but that would provide state matching money for historic preservation, affordable housing, and open space and recreation projects in town.
“I know where you are coming from,” Colby said in response to the abutters’ concerns about the proposed sale.
Although he wouldn’t comment on his opinion regarding the Plummer property prior to the public hearing, Colby recalled when the Bushee barn on Newman Road was razed.
“It kind of broke my heart,” he said.
In an interview Wednesday, Historical Commission member Jan Forrest said her panel plans to discuss this at its meeting tonight.
“We have previously discussed our concerns that the property’s long history will be lost in a new development,” she said. “We also fear the house and outbuildings — especially the huge barn — will be destroyed.”
She stressed that the Historical Commission will do all it can to provide information to help the town make an informed decision about the homestead.