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Leverett preserves 101 acres on Cave Hill Road

LEVERETT — Leverett will purchase 101 acres of land on Cave Hill Road with $185,000 from the Community Preservation Act fund.

Following a lengthy discussion, a two-thirds majority of the voters at the annual town meeting Saturday approved the measure to buy the acreage as conservation land, with some objecting to taking more property off town tax rolls. An additional $35,000, raised from private donors, will be put toward the purchase.

Voters also approved a $5.5 million town budget which includes $3.8 million for education. They also passed resolutions to restrict the use of drone aircraft in town and to oppose a gas pipeline that is being constructed by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company and will pass through Franklin County.

The land purchase generated the most interest as 20 speakers rose to address the issue.

Kip Fonsh, a member of the School Committee, urged voters to reject the request, saying that the town’s financial situation is at a “critical point.” He questioned whether the town’s Fire Department, Police Department and other services can be maintained at their current levels if the town continues to take land out of the property tax pool by restricting its use.

“Before we vote to approve this, I think we should demonstrate that we are ready to have a deep conversation about how we are going to maintain the town that we love,” he said.

Ken Kohn, a member of the Rattlesnake Gutter Trust, a land preservation group in town, said that while he recognized that money is tight, Leverett should act on the land while it has the chance.

“This particular exceptional parcel will not be available if (the article)is not passed today,” Kohn said.

At one point during the discussion, when Community Preservation Committee member Betsy Douglas asked for a show of hands from those who would use the land for hiking and other activities, a majority responded. Another resident, however, said that she has been on the trails on the property numerous times and has yet to see anyone else using them.

Other action

Regarding the warrant articles that dealt with the petition-based resolutions, the request concerning drones drew the most discussion.

Following a presentation that included comments by Paul Voss, an associate professor of engineering at Smith College who works with drones, Leverett resident Daniel Williams said that he thought approving the resolution would be a mistake, citing positive uses such as search and rescue and natural disaster management.

Another town resident, Tom Hankinson, said he thought drones could be useful for monitoring the dam at Leverett Pond, and that he would not want such a resolution to stop him from owning them for his own enjoyment.

Voters also approved a number of repairs and renovations to the town’s elementary school, as well as equipment purchases for the police and fire departments, including a cruiser, turnout gear and breathing apparatuses.

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