Burlington selectmen vote against putting Landlocked Forest referendum on election ballot

Joanna Kaselis Tzouvelis

Supporters of a non-binding referendum on the so-called Landlocked parcel must work to get it on the 2010 election ballot, after a divided Board of Selectmen voted Monday against the measure.

The board voted 3-2 on Selectmen Vice Chairman Walter Zenkin’s motion against putting the referendum on the ballot, with opponents citing fears

Selectmen Sonia Rollins and Gary Gianino cast the dissenting votes, in effect supporting the referendum on the ballot.

Selectmen Chairman Ralph Patuto and Daniel DiTucci joined Zenkin in voting in favor of nixing it.

The vote means referendum supporters must collect no less than 1,600 valid signatures from registered voters in town if they want the referendum on the ballot for the town’s 2010 municipal elections.

The vote came after much debate among board members and residents, including many who wish to preserve the land parcel rather than see it developed.

The proposed referendum would ask voters whether they would recommend to selectmen and Town Meeting representatives to support selling a 250-acre portion of town-owned land, known as the Land-locked Forest, to the development group Patriot Partners, which would mean it might be developed into a retirement community, known as Erickson Retirement Communities, and commercial uses.

The petition asks whether residents would have the town review the proposal, provided that community-accessible public open space and vehicular access is provided for as part of the development, and that a portion of the land will remain available to the town for recreational use.

Because the referendum is non-binding it would seek to reflect the sentiments of voters in town rather than enact any policy regarding the land. The sale of the land is subject to Town Meeting approval.

A number of residents have already signed a petition calling for the referendum question.

Precinct 6 Town Meeting Rep. Tom Killilea said he supports the petition signers, and would like the town to move forward with talks of developing the property.

“Nobody is asking you to sell the property. We are asking the people of the town to give their opinion,” said Killilea.

Rollins also voiced support. “At the end of the day, the asset is the town’s and why wouldn’t you have the town weigh in on it?” Rollins said.

Gianino, who with Rollins voted against blocking the referendum, said, “Let’s have all the residents have the opportunity to say if they are interested in having talks about senior housing.”

The fate of the forest continues to spark debate and divide residents. While many see an opportunity to create senior housing and increase tax revenues, many residents want to preserve the land.

Larry Cohen, of the Friends of the Landlocked Forest, voiced opposition to the referendum, saying development of the land would hurt the town’s water supply as well as destroy a valued conservation area.

“Seventy percent of the Landlocked Forest is in a DEP Zone III, which is our Water Resources District. We should be focused on a Zone II Map, which is our Aquifer Protection District that was based on minimal data from Northwest Park,” Cohen said.

Cohen said the town should seek studies to “make sure we know what contribution this land makes to our water supply protection. And we should do this before asking voters if they want to sell.”

Town Moderator Philip Gallagher opposes both the referendum and the notion of selling the land. “Do you want to sell our largest capital asset?” he asked.

In September 2008, the development group, Patriot Partners made a proposal to buy the land and develop it for retirement housing and commercial uses.

Town Meeting voted in 2008 against an article to fund a study of Patriot Partners’ proposal.

The town took the land through eminent domain 1985, with a 20-year option agreement with PC Burlington Inc., which was the owner at the time. The option later passed hands to the State of Washington Investment Group.

A Delaware court appointed Patriot Partners the receiver of the option, with authority to negotiate a on the group’s behalf.

However, the option is set to expire within three weeks.

Martha Simon, President of the Friends of the Landlocked Forest, urged the selectmen to oppose the referendum.

“This proposal as read is a replay of the proposal Patriot Partners offered last year which was voted down,” said Simon.

Zenkin, who made the motion for the board to block the referendum, said, “I’m going to make the best decision possible for the town. 250 acres is very valuable.”

“I agree we should listen to the people. People have a voice. Bring me back a petition with 1,600 signatures, not a petition with 10 to 12 votes,” said Patuto.

Other selectmen  notes

The selectmen voted unanimously in favor of an 8 percent health insurance rate increase for town employees.

Public Works Superintendent John Sanchez discussed the draft of the new water and sewer regulations which will include the following fines for tampering: $100 per day for tampered water meters, $300 per day for tampered hydrants and $350 for tampering with back flow devices.

Rollins announced the ribbon cutting for the completion of phase I for the Grandview Farm renovation will be held Nov. 14 at 10:30 a.m. There building will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to noon.

Zenkin reminded everyone there is a flu clinic on Nov. 14 at the Burlington High School gymnasium, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Assistant Town Administrator Thomas Hickey announced Burlington ranks in the top five percent for energy efficiency in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and has been invited to join the Green Communities Program.