WEST NEWBURY – Residents keen to preserve an iconic view on the corner of Middle Street and Kimball Road were recently offered a glimmer of hope when residents signaled their willingness to work with the city to protect property.
Jen Wright and Mike Morris, who own the 8-acre rear portion of the original property at 14 Kimball Road – including the house and barn, said they would be willing to work with neighbors and the city to provide a walkway system and long term create restrictions to prevent further development on the property.
“We are very excited to work with us and have some future discussions if the board has been interested in doing with us to ensure this remains an open space,” said Wright.
“It seems to me that this is worth talking more about,” responded Select Board Chairman Rick Parker after learning of the couple’s interest in working with the city to protect the land that belongs to their property adjoins.
City officials were informed on June 15 of a decision by the Graf Realty Trust to remove the property from a Chapter 61A tax classification and sell it for $ 1.1 million.
The property offers space for three residential building plots. According to the state tax law, the city has a right of first refusal on the property if it is ready to comply with the seller’s offer.
The Select Board has 120 days to act from the date of notification. The rear of the original Graf property was sold to Wright and Morris.
Before hearing from Wright and Morris, Parker opened a discussion on the subject by saying, “This is a tough decision for everyone.”
The dilemma is that “the property is an iconic view,” while “the price tag is an amazing number,” said Parker.
Many residents are pushing the city to find a way to preserve what they believe is one of the most beautiful rural views in West Newbury.
At a Select Board meeting on July 26, a woman emphasized that maintaining the town’s rural charm not only protects property values, but also underscores exactly what the community values and their willingness to preserve.
There are a limited number of these natural views that remain, said a Middle Street resident. He reached out to the Essex County Greenbelt Association for a fundraiser, but was told the property did not meet typical criteria.
He said residents could raise fiscal assistance if they had the opportunity. “If you don’t, you have nothing to save in this category,” he told the board.
But others – including some on land use boards in the city – questioned the selling price and the lack of continuity with other plots and paths in the city.
Funding from the Community Preservation Act could be required for other purposes – including the possible purchase of land such as the 19-acre Knapp’s Greenhouse on Main Street that may be available in the near future.
“We need to be careful how we deplete the pool of readily available funds,” said Parker.
Board member David Archibald was also reluctant to use funds from the Community Preservation Act, saying he prefers a funding mechanism that residents would pay into in the future as it aims to get the most benefit from the scenic view.
“It seems unfair to me to put the entire burden on the current taxpayers,” he said.
Archibald estimated that borrowing $ 1 million at 2.5 percent would cost about $ 60,000 to $ 70,000 a year, depending on the cost of the borrowing.
“It is clearly a valuable natural resource,” said board member Wendy Reed. “I have a hard time with the price tag.”
Morris said there may be a way not only to preserve the rural view, but also to provide public access to a trail and forest – perhaps to make property preservation more attractive financially and socially.
He said his father, John, was instrumental in creating the Hans Morris Reservation in Newbury in order to preserve his 25 acre property for conservation purposes.
He sold the entire property to the nonprofit organization, which then preserved 18 acres and sold the house privately, according to the club’s website.
Since the property borders on a large state nature reserve, part of the financing was secured by the state, the rest was borne by private donors.
“We want it to be preserved too,” Wright said of the land that borders their property.
“This is very valuable to hear,” said Parker. “It certainly changes the discussion.”
Reed planned to move on with Wright and Morris.