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Williamstown Rural Lands to Purchase Oblong Road Parcel
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
05:23PM / Wednesday, January 18, 2023
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation has finalized a purchase and sales agreement for a 10-acre parcel on Oblong Road.
"We put some money down [Tuesday], and we will put a bigger deposit down on Friday," WRLF President Greg Islan said on Wednesday afternoon. "Basically, it's a done deal. Both sides have signed the purchase and sales agreement."
The non-profit conservation trust succeeded in November in convincing the Select Board to assign the town's right of first refusal on the property, which has been conserved under the commonwealth's Chapter 61 program since the 1980s.
Under Massachusetts General Law, a landowner whose property is conserved under Chapter 61 can sell that property only after allowing the municipality to either purchase the land at the market price or assign its right of first refusal to a qualified non-profit.
"We are grateful for the support of our public servants on the town's boards and committees in their recognition of the importance of farmland conservation," Rural Lands Executive Director Robin Sears said in a news release. "In the midst of the climate crisis, food security issues, and a biodiversity crisis, the permanent conservation of diverse habitats and working landscapes is crucial."
The land in question is adjacent to Sweet Brook Farm and is used by the Lipinski family to graze its 25-head black Angus cattle herd.
The town's Agricultural Commission strongly supported WRLF's request to the Select Board, which weighed the issue in meetings over the course of several months.
"With about a dozen farms remaining in town, and many of these intending to go out of business within the next 5-10 years, Sweet Brook Farm may be one of the few farms left in 2030," the Ag Commission wrote in a letter to the Select Board in the fall.
The 10 acres at 0 Oblong Road will be become part of a decades-long effort to preserve the town's rural landscape, according to the WRLF news release.
"The farm is situated between the Mount Greylock Reservation and the Taconic Crest, an area designated a 'Distinctive Landscape' by the state's Department of Environmental Management (now DCR), which cites the impressive vistas and the most picturesque mountain scenery in the Commonwealth," the release reads.
"The parcel is bordered on its south side by Sweet Brook, a priority habitat for cold-water fisheries. If this land were to be developed, the soil disturbance from building and subsequent lawn management and interventions might have imperiled the brook and the wetlands it feeds below the property."
The seller of the property, Beth Phelps, last summer reached an agreement with a buyer who was interested in developing residential housing lots. Through her attorney, Phelps told the Select Board in the fall that she had no objection to selling the land to Williamstown Rural Lands instead if the board decided to assign the town's right of first refusal.
Islan said on Wednesday that the non-profit had commitments from donors across town to support the purchase of the land. The majority of the donations come from people in the neighborhood, but at least a quarter of the funds committed come from people who do not live on Oblong Road, he said.
"People come from all over town and other towns to enjoy the views on Oblong Road," Islan said. "It's a safe, beautiful road to walk on."
The fundraising efforts are not over.
Islan said Williamstown Rural Lands is pursuing state and federal grant money to support the purchase, but those grant requests can take years to come to fruition.
"If we get that, we should be in great shape," he said. "If we don't get that, we will really need to do some fund-raising."
In addition, Islan said Rural Lands has told donors who already made multi-year commitments to support the purchase that they will be released from those commitments, if government grants make the donations unnecessary. The WRLF hopes, if that happens, that the donors will allow their donations to support other activities of the non-profit, which owns nearly 1,000 acres of forest, meadow and farmland and holds easements on an additional 300 acres of privately-owned land.
In appearances before the Select Board, Islan told the panel that he personally walked the length of Oblong Road to knock on doors and ask residents to support the effort to preserve the 0 Oblong Road property.
"I enjoyed greatly getting to know the people on Oblong Road," he said on Wednesday. "There are people with deep pockets and people who don't have deep pockets. And people on both sides have said this is property that should be protected."
Islan said Rural Lands plans to close on the property on April 7.
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