In 2005, Opacum received a donation of a potentially buildable parcel of land, complete with road frontage, along Twelve Mile Brook in Monson.
It was given in memory of Cedric & Martha Cross by an anonymous donor. Opacum thanks that person not only for this generous act, but for the spirit in which it was given. The land is loved dearly by the donor, and it is habitat for a species of special concern in Massachusetts.
Conservation is an option in Monson
by Leslie Duthie
To learn more about Monson, Massachusetts, visit Monson-ma.gov
Surprisingly, only 13% of the land in Monson is considered protected open space. Almost 66% can still be developed, adding a possible 3,100 new homes according to Monson’s Master Plan build-out analysis. Certainly this will not happen overnight, but think of the huge changes that will take place in our town. What demands will these new homes place on our drinking water supply, our highway department, our police and fire departments and our school system? How will these pressures alter Monson’s greatest resources: its rural character, scenic vistas, walking trails and bucolic roadsides? To address these issues, Monson is currently working on an Open Space and Recreation Plan that will guide conservation, development and growth to create a well balanced community environment in which to live, work, and play.
We do not need to look far to see the suburban sprawl occurring in our area. Sturbridge has grown at an alarming rate. Development in Belchertown is proceeding so fast that the town is listed as one of the top 20 communities in the state for land lost to development. If we don’t do something to guide development and protect open space now we will lose the village atmosphere we have come to appreciate and the valuable benefits that come with it. There is nothing better than a hike at Peaked Mountain, stopping for ice cream at Westview Farms, buying locally grown corn and produce at Koran’s, shopping in our quaint stores and doing business with the people with whom we share our community.
Preserving open space is less expensive than the public service costs associated with sprawling development. For each $1.00 in real estate taxes collected from a single family home the town must pay $1.25 to provide services such as plowing and maintaining the roads, fire and police services, and schools. For each $1.00 in taxes the town collects on a forested property, the cost to the town for services is only $0.27. Moreover, it is possible for that landowner to obtain income from the land by harvesting forest products.
Considerable benefits can be gained by concentrating growth near areas of existing infrastructure while preserving key land and water resources. Acquisition of open space that protects drinking water, in particular, can save significant water treatment costs. Conserving open space is often the cheapest way to safeguard drinking water, clean the air and achieve other public health and environmental goals. Clean water is the #1 product that comes from open space preservation.
Open space supports the economic vitality of communities. Homebuyers and businesses alike are attracted to open space. Recreation, parks and open spaces are ranked as top priorities for relocating businesses. Open space networks (greenways) easily accommodate recreational activities making it possible for the addition of alternative transportation networks such as bicycle paths and walkways, a valuable and attractive amenity for any prosperous community.
“The value of parks and open space is often beyond measure. They strengthen neighborhoods, build community, preserve sense of place, stabilize and revitalize distressed communities, stimulate commercial growth and provide young people with constructive alternatives to crime and delinquency” (D. Ernest Cook and William P. Ryan Community Open Space: New Techniques for Acquisition and Financing). Investing in the conservation of Monson’s greatest resources is a small price to pay for the significant benefits those resources will provide for the future.
There are three tools that we can use to work towards reaching our conservation and recreation goals in Monson. A conservation restriction is one such tool. Those who love their land and wish to protect it from future development can do so with a conservation restriction. Conservation restrictions can be donated or sold and result in federal income tax and local real-estate tax breaks. Those who sell conservation restrictions on their land also benefit by an immediate source of income from the sale. Lands under conservation restrictions remain the property of the owner while future development of the land is restricted. Conservation restrictions are flexible and allow owners to decide how their property will be restricted. Commonly, lands under conservation restrictions are harvested for forestry products, farmed, and/or used for recreation. Public access is not a requirement for lands under conservation restrictions. Local land trusts, conservation commissions and even historical commissions can hold conservation easements on property.
Another valuable tool for preserving open space is Monson’s Open Space Community zoning by-law. The by-law provides developers with an open space friendly approach to building new homes. Through alternative requirements, the by-law enables developers to build houses on smaller lots while setting aside land in preserved Community Open Space. Smaller house lot requirements mean lower infrastructure costs for the developer. Adjacent viable open space means higher lot desirability and higher lot value. Homeowners would have greater access to open space and greenway connections than they would have on a traditional lot without having to pay the property taxes usually associated with homes constructed on large lots. Open space is preserved, and a desirable, healthy, more useful environment is established for those who live there. These developments have been very successful in other communities and may provide affordable housing for the average citizen.
Lastly, the Forest Legacy Program (FLP) is a well-funded, very competitive, federal program that provides money for purchasing conservation restrictions on forested lands. Monson is within the Quinebaug Forest Legacy area. President Bush proposed that $74,500,000 be spent for Forest Legacy Projects nationwide. $37,500,000 of that money has been allocated for projects in the Northeastern United States. It may be possible to solicit some of that money for open space preservation in Monson.
The tremendous, economic and social benefits of planning development around open space will make significant differences in Monson’s future, and the future of all the communities in Opacum’s region. If you are interested in how this can happen, want to know how we can work together to save important open space, or if you want to know more about conservation options for your property, contact Opacum Land Trust.
-Leslie Duthie is the volunteer vice president of Opacum. She assisted Monson with passing CPA, and is the chair of the conservation commission, among other things. She is working with Opacum to promote Forest Legacy and other land conservation programs in Monson.