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Sale of Brooks Orchard Property To Chestnut Hills Farm LLC Brings Change

by Russell Harris
On August 30, 2019 the Webber family sold the 191-acre Brooks Orchard/Chestnut Hills property for $995,000 to Chestnut Hills Farm LLC. Shortly thereafter, in September, in a public notice, head of the trails committee, Paul Funch, announced that the new owners of the property had "informed us that they will not allow any public access to their 191-acre property" as of September 14, 2019. Funch added, "They intend to build their family house on the property.” Mr. Funch also added that the new owners, “stated specifically that they will prohibit hunting on their property.”
     Bob Pine, sitting on the boards of both the Land Foundation and the Groton Conservation Trust, said that it was unfortunate that the new owner of the Brooks Orchards property was not allowing any public passage of his property by Groton Trails. But he added that it was not unreasonable, considering that the existing trails network "goes right through the site where the new owner is planning to build his home." Pine noted that most Groton property owners do not allow public passage across their land.
     Nevertheless, he said the conservation community hopes that the there might be changes in the future after the new house is completed and the owner has a better sense of how the trails network might be integrated into his land while preserving his rights and privacy, but that it is important to respect the owner’s wishes.
Some Background Info Brooks Orchard Property 
     The Webber family purchased Gibbet Hill, Angus Hill and Brooks Orchard from Marion Campbell in 2000. Then, in 2004 Groton Land Foundation, a subsidiary of the Groton Conservation Trust, agreed to purchase the 191-acre Brooks Orchard property from the Webber family for $1,500,000, with the Webber family holding the mortgage on the property. Separately, Groton Water Department paid the Webbers for a permanent easement for a new water tower on Chestnut Hill, the
highest point in town.
     Groton Conservation Trust made several attempts to develop the property to pay back the Webbers. The highest profile plan was to develop 17 moderate-income units on the property, a plan that was approved at Town Meeting.
     Another plan involving selling four, large farm-style lots was also floated. Ultimately, these plans and others failed because of the difficult economy at the time. Finally, the Webber family decided they wanted the property back as the Conservation Trust was unable to develop it.
     For a time the Webbers considered developing a wind farm on one of the three drumlins on the property. The property includes Chestnut Hill, the highest location in Groton. Further analysis of the wind farm idea proved to be uneconomical and was abandoned.
     Also in 2004, the state purchased an Agricultural Preservation Restriction [APR] on 114 acres of the property’s 191 acres. The Massachusetts APR Program is a voluntary program that protects ‘prime’ and ‘state important’ agricultural land by offering to pay farmers and other land owners the difference between the fair market value and the ‘agricultural value’ of their farmland in exchange for a permanent deed restriction that precludes any use of the property that will be detrimental to its agricultural viability. Four properties in Groton, with a combined total of about 382 acres of land, are protected through APRs including 114 acres at Brooks Orchard.
     Also, in 2005, the Groton Water Department purchased an easement from the Webbers for $250,000 for construction of a water storage tank, access road and water main access. The water storage tank is on the highest point in Groton feeding water to the distribution system by gravity.
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