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Colrain mulls land development rights donation



Recorder Staff
Wednesday, August 30, 2017

COLRAIN — A plan for a former Colrain family to give up development rights for at least 80 acres along Green River Road to the Franklin Land Trust got a cool reception from the Selectboard. The board was concerned that town land would be taken off the tax rolls, shifting more costs for town services to tax-paying homeowners.

The family of Max Eckstein, now living in California, want to donate the development rights for most of its farmland to the Franklin Land Trust. The family will keep the land, which they bought 1968, but want most of the land to be retained as a natural resource, according to Emily Boss, Franklin Land Trust land protection specialist, who appeared before the Selectboard Monday.

“This is about people enjoying their private property and paying less in taxes,” said Selectwoman Eileen Sauvageau. “This isn’t going to benefit the community.”

Boss countered that preserving the land would provide long-term benefits to the town in terms of air and water protection and natural beauty near the Green River. Boss said the property now is mostly leased to a local farm for haying and had previously received a lower tax rate under the state’s Chapter 61 program.

Boss said the Ecksteins were interested in keeping a separate development lot for a future home, but wanted about 80 acres of their land to remain agricultural. She said the additional house lot means the town will get more tax dollars from the property than it did while more land was under the Chapter 61 designation. She said the family plans to reapply for the Chapter 61 designation and keep the house lot for their own future use.

The Selectboard asked Boss to come back to a meeting, with more information about the tax impact to the town if the land is forever conserved. They also wanted to know if the Ecksteins would consider public access to the land, for hiking trails or other low-impact uses.

“People think their taxes are going up because more and more land is going up under Chapter 61A,” remarked board Chairman Mark Thibodeau.

“I’m totally supportive of protecting land, but also protective of our community — not seeing it disintegrate by raising taxes of single homeowners,” said Sauvageau.

“I’ve always noticed an inherent unfairness of preserving land for all, and putting the (town tax) burden on single-home taxpayers,” Selectman Jack Cavolick remarked.

Before the development rights can be given to the land trust, the town Conservation Commission must verify that the land has natural resources and is worth preserving.

Boss agreed it’s hard to balance a small town’s need for tax revenues with the desire for land conservation. But she also pointed out that towns spend much less on community services on open space land than for services provided to commercial, residential and industrial-zoned regions.