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Burlington to go slow on development of Landlocked Forest

Posted by Sara Brown  May 21, 2010 10:13 AM

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The Landlocked Forest, a hotly contested piece of town-owned land, will remain undeveloped for now, as an option to develop the land expires this month, town officials said.


Patriot Partners, LLC, a real estate partnership company that developed Burlington's Wayside Commons and the Lexington Technology Park, had purchased an option to develop part of the 250 acres of land into senior housing and office space  if the town decided to sell it before May 2010.  The town decided not to develop the parcel at this time.


Town Administrator Robert Mercier, said that to his knowledge, the option to purchase the land expires this month, and it doesn't appear that there have been any requests to extend the option from the company or the town.  


The town is also getting closer to completing payments for the parcel of land.  Mercier said the final payment will is due sometime in August.  $8.2 million dollars was appropriated for the town to purchase the forest at the September, 1989 town meeting, to be paid with a 20-year bond.  


Discussions about how to use the land have been ongoing since the purchase, with suggested uses ranging from cemetery space to a golf course, some arguing that the land should be developed, and other arguing that land is most valuable as conservation space.  


According to Mercier, Burlington's Facilities committee has submitted to town counsel a list of questions about the land and its potential uses, with answers expected in June.  He said that using the land for anything but conservation will be difficult because of Massachusetts' open space law.  "We'll have to move hell and earth to get use of that property for some other use," Mercier said.


Last fall, the Board of Selectmen voted 3-2 against a request to put a non-binding referendum about potential development on the ballot for the April town election.  


For development to go forward after the selectmen decided not to put development up for a town-wide vote, residents would have needed to gather about 1,600 signatures to put the issue on April's town election ballot.  


Beyond that, because Burlington purchased the land for the protection of the town's water supply and to preserve open space, Massachusetts law would require the sale or development of the land to be approved by two-thirds of town meeting and a two-thirds vote of the State Legislature.  


"Right now, we'll sit on it and worry about redeveloping in other areas," said Walter Zenkin, the vice-chairman of the Board of Selectmen.  Zenkin cited the Northwest Business Park and Middlesex Turnpike as other areas the town should focus on.  


"There's no emergency with the Landlocked Forest," said Zenkin, who served on the Landlocked Forest subcommittee.  "We should leave it as it is."  He added that the land is valuable for hiking and recreation and the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts frequently use the land.


Martha Simon, a member of the Friends of the Landlocked Forest and an advocate for keeping the land as open space, said she is pleased and relieved that the issue did not come up on the ballot.  To her, she said, this reinforces that sentiment in the town has shifted against development.  


In the future, Simon says, she hopes that there won't be support for selling the land, with other open space available for development in town and the economy not supporting a worthwhile sale.  Simon said advocates for keeping the land as-is aren't completely out of the woods--there is still discussion of using the land for other purposes, such as cemetery space. 


However, Simon said she doesn't feel that there is town-wide support to develop the property.  "As people have gotten to know more about the land, more and more people are not interested in selling it," Simon said.  She said that guided walks of the forest, where children have seen tadpoles in vernal pools and coyote, turkeys, and deer have been spotted, have been popular.

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