Residents applaud Broken Ground conservation plan
A packed room of East Concord residents burst into applause and shouts of joy yesterday as the city’s conservation commission voted for a plan to purchase 270 acres in the Broken Ground area.
The land is perfect for hiking and snowshoeing, residents told the commission. It’s full of deer, coyotes, turkeys, beavers and the occasional moose or bear. It’s beloved by many, and it’s an area residents long feared would face development.
Under a new proposal that now must go before the Concord City Council, the city would bond $975,000 to purchase and conserve the 270 acres off Portsmouth Street and Curtisville Road, putting an end to decades of planned development.
Many of the nearly 40 residents who crowded a conference room and spilled out into a hallway at city hall last night have spent years fighting development of the Broken Ground area. Yesterday evening they expressed gratitude that development plans have failed.
In the 1980s, developer Barry Stem proposed building 400 homes, a golf course and fitness club on 1,400 acres of the Broken Ground land. That plan fell through, as did a 1993 plan to build an office park and conserve the rest of the area.
A 2005 plan proposed more than 80 homes and 2.4 miles of new roadway. That development, called Whispering Heights, received planning board approval in 2008 over the protests of residents.
“Raise your hand if you were part of this group that was here six years ago and trying to keep Whispering Heights from happening,” said Fran Philippe, as most people in the room yesterday lifted one arm toward the ceiling.
“Well, we’re back,” she said.
Unlike six years ago, the proposal now on the table is one those residents love. They spent nearly an hour telling the conservation commission how much they value the land filled with hills, ledges, wetlands and wildlife. The entire Broken Ground area, of which the 270 acres in question is only a small portion, extends from Portsmouth Street to the Loudon town line and remains undeveloped.
“I think that this is the land for everybody in the city of Concord to enjoy: schools, seniors, everybody,” Claudia Rein said. “I don’t think anything should be built on it, and when the city buys it, I hope there’s some way they could protect it from never being built on with any thought of developers coming in ever again.
“That’s it,” Rein added, as the crowd of residents burst into applause.
If the city council approves the purchase, more than 270 acres would remain undeveloped and open for public use.
“It’s almost like Concord’s preserve,” resident Stefan Mattlage said. “And it should be preserved. And there’s otters and beavers and everything out there. And I think people in the room think of that property as ‘their’ woods and . . . I’m willing to share it with everybody.”
An initial offer from the conservation commission of $975,000 has been accepted by the landowners – Links Realty Trust and Brian and Larry Bollinger. The deal would also include a one-time timber sale conducted by the owners after the city purchases the land, Senior Planner Becky Hebert said. Timber sales are often held on city property, and Hebert said a sale at Broken Ground would be regulated and overseen by a consultant.
Links Realty Trust belongs to Meisner Brem Corp., which proposed Whispering Heights and has been marketing the three parcels to housing developers. The land’s most recent asking price for developers was $2.4 million.
Hebert said the conservation commission has been negotiating with the property owners “on and off” for the past several years.
While bonding $975,000 would require payments from the city’s general fund, which is supported by tax revenue, residents told the conservation commission it’s worth the price.
“It’s very rare, I think, for a city the size of Concord in this day and age to have open land so close to both downtown, the highway and a shopping mall,” said Christopher Nelson, who grew up in East Concord. “And that seamless, even flow between very different, very distinct parts of town is one of the things that makes Concord so special.”
If the city owns the land, residents said they’ll finally feel assured that they can explore the woods in their neighborhood for years to come.
“My almost-12-year-old has the biggest backyard,” said Betsy Peabody of Portsmouth Street. “I agree with what you’re hearing from everybody else, that this is the time and opportunity to really conserve that for the kids of the east side.”
The proposed purchase will now go to the city council for another public hearing and vote.