Town of Pelham to Purchase Pine Valley Golf Links Property
April 22, 2016
by Kaela Law
The Pelham Conservation Commission has voted 6-0-0 to purchase the Pine Valley Golf Links (Map 23 Lot 8-18), a 71.2-acre parcel of land, to protect the property as open space.
In 2003, town voters passed a warrant article for a $3 million bond to be used to protect open space. This warrant article was passed by more than 70 percent of the voters. The conservation commission could not spend more than $1 million per year, but no further approvals were needed to spend the money from the bond. At the time, the town had protected 1,000 acres of land. The conservation commission made a commitment to double that amount. A 71-acre purchase will bring them closer to their goal of 2,000 protected acres in the town of Pelham.
Public hearings are required prior to the purchase of the property to give residents a voice in the process. The conservation commission held one such hearing on April 13. Two additional public hearings will take place over the next few weeks before the Pelham Board of Selectmen, the dates of which are not yet determined.
Conservation Commission Chairman Paul Gagnon made the presentation regarding the Pine Valley Golf Links purchase.
“The golf course property is located in the central part of town adjacent to the Peabody Town Forest,” explained Gagnon. “The Girl Scout camp property is to the north as well as Eric’s Farm. North of Eric’s Farm is the (Pelham) Fish and Game Club. This is the largest tract of open space left in town. This area of town is on the highest priority for protection on the open space plan. The commission has hopes that these lands will not be developed. The golf course itself could be easily developed. There is a lot of upland accessible from Main Street and Heather Lee Lane. As a result the commission thought the golf course would be a good parcel to acquire. The acquisition will expand Peabody Town Forest and protect the land from development.”
The conservation commission has a set of criteria to consider before pursuing land acquisitions. Will the purchase protect town resources? Will the purchase meet goals in the open space plan and the town’s master plan? Will the purchase enable land connectivity and protect wildlife habitat? Does the owner have an interest and priority in conserving the land? During the public hearing, Gagnon read off the checklist of about a page and a half of these and similar questions. The conservation commission found the Pine Valley Golf Links parcel to fit their criteria.
The current purchase proposal is to provide $750,000 to the owner at closing for the 71.2-acre golf course. This price is about $10,500 per acre. In addition, the town would lease the golf course back to the current owner for 10 years. Pine Valley is intended to remain a private golf course. There are about 42 acres cleared for the nine holes of golf and about 30 acres that remain wooded. The wooded portion of the lot connects with the Peabody Town Forest and would allow the trail systems to extend and be open to the public.
The appraised value of the property is $1.1 million. The total cost to the Town of Pelham for the parcel would be $1 million. The town would be getting the parcel for a 10 percent discount, and the final payment would not be until the tenth year of the lease.
The value on the land is $760,000. The Conservation Commission would pay $750,000 on the land itself at the time of closing. Improvements on the land such as the irrigation system and pumps are valued at $340,000. The Town of Pelham would pay $250,000 on the improvements to the land over a 10-year period.
The current taxes on the land are $25,500 per year. The town would reduce the taxes by $25,000 per year for the 10 year lease agreement. This would give the owner the full value of the purchase agreement in ten years’ time.
The lease would end in 10 years with no commitment afterward. The town could continue to lease the property, but no further tax breaks are built in. Full taxes would need to be paid after the initial lease agreement is up.
Selectmen Hal Lynde noted that the deal to lease the property back was important to the current owner in concluding the agreement. “It certainly gives the town the opportunity to prevent the parcel (from) being developed while determining the eventual conservation use of the land.” Lynde further noted that the agreement does not include the clubhouse located across the street from the main parcel. The owner will continue to own that piece of land and the building on it. According to Lynde, the lease keeps the club and its day-to-day operations solely in the hands of the club owner and keeps the town out of any operational considerations.
Former planning board member Bill Scanzani spoke in favor of the acquisition. He stated, “Any time a town acquires open space there is a loss of tax revenue from the purchase,” but argued that loss should be measured against the benefits.
Scanzani spoke of the many people in town over the years who have had the vision to protect open space. “I could not possibly name every person who has contributed to the effort; Spike Hayes and his work for protecting the Boy Scout camp land, and Bob Lamoureux with his work on the trail system and maintaining connectivity of all-purpose trails. These plans for open space take decades to come to fruition. For many years this area in the center of town has been thought about as a great open space. If it could be protected, it would be the largest area of protected land in town.” Scanzani encouraged the current conservation commission members to build upon the work of their predecessors and agree to the purchase.
Scanzani also elaborated on some of the benefits of this parcel. He spoke about plans he had seen, when on the planning board, for a past proposal that saw a minimum of 40 house lots on the wooded 30-acre portion of this land. Should it be developed today, that number would probably increase. “When testing was done for wells on the wooded part of the lot,” explained Scanzani, “it was determined that the water draw was plentiful enough to supply the Route 38 corridor with water. If needed in the future, the town could utilize this water supply.” Scanzani mentioned some high ground could also be negotiated for possible cell tower locations, and included that this open space parcel has the very real potential to produce revenue for the town.
In 2003, Pelham voters approved funds for the purpose of purchasing and preserving space in the Town of Pelham. Since that time, the Pelham Conservation Commission has worked strategically to meet this objective by acquiring certain parcels of land totaling approximately 850 acres. These include the Kirby-Ivers Town Forest, Merriman-Cutter Town Forest and the Gumpus Conservation Area which are enjoyed by many residents in the form of recreational hiking and snowmobiling trails.
The board of selectmen will have two public hearings regarding the purchase agreement. A vote will take place at the second meeting. Dates have not yet been announced. In the meantime, letters can be sent to the town about the proposal so that all questions or concerns may be properly addressed by the selectmen during the public hearings.