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Community Preservation Committee Minutes 02/09/2015

Lenox Community Preservation Committee
February 9, 2015

In Attendance: Frederick Keator (Chair), Al Harper (At Large), Catherine May (LHA), Tom Delasco (PB), Eugene Chague (At Large), Tony Patella (Community Center),  Olga Weiss (LHS), Joe Strauch (Conservation Commission), Gwen Miller (Town Planner), Betsy Strauch (guest), Kate McNulty-Vaughan (Planning Board), Narain Schroeder (BNRC), Gig Darey (Lenox resident), Marianne Ellrodt (Lenox resident), Jim Harwood (Lenox resident)
The Community Preservation Committee met on Monday, February 9 to continue their review of the twelve (12) applications under consideration.  
The meeting began a little after 7 PM. Prior to the meeting, the committee convened at Shakespeare and Company for to conduct a site visit of St. Martin’s Hall. The Committee toured the building with Shakespeare and Company staff Ariel Bock, Ute DeFarlo, and Phil Hiser. The Committee noted that the building’s structural integrity appeared sound. The building was noted to contain asbestos floor tiles as well as flaking, lead paint throughout the interior. There were areas in which snow had blown into the building, and areas in which water leaked had formed sheets of ice.
The January 26 minutes were amended and tabled for approval at the February 23 meeting.   
The Committee discussed the following proposals at the meeting:
  • Undermountain Farm Conservation Project
Gene Chague stated that he felt the proposal was misinterpreted at the last meeting. He expressed concern that some understood the Undermountain Farm proposal as funding to protect wetland area when the funding would help protect the entire property. Mr. Harper recused himself from the discussion.

Narain Schroeder was present at the meeting, and provided an explanation of the proposal before the committee. He explained that the request put forth to the CPC would be a portion of the entire amount required to protect the Undermountain Farm parcel. It would not be solely for a conservation restriction on the marsh, but for the protection of the entire 146 acres of land. He also explained that he had worked with Foresight Land Services to identify buildable area. They identified a band of soils on the lower half of the parcel, which contains the marsh, which would support development. Foresight developed a build out scenario in which the western edge of the parcel could subdivide an estate lot, which could provide three to four very nice building lots in the southwest corner. Mr. Schroeder also noted that O’Connor and Associates, the appraisers, was partially based on the types of soil present which could support development. Mr. Schroeder discussed how BNRC came to apply for CPA funds as part of their finance package. He noted that he had the opportunity of a very generous time line, which is not common in land conservation, but that he would need all of the funding compiled by October 31, 2015. CPA provides funding for the acquisition of open space.

Ms. Miller added that she had also mapped the parcel using ArcGIS and identified buildable area (land without wetland, wetland buffer or steep slope), and had also spoken with Neal Carpenter, Chair of the Conservation Commission and Don Fitzgerald, Building Inspector. Mr. Carpenter had indicated it would be difficult to delineate the wetland area with so much snow on the ground; and Mr. Fitzgerald had noted that it would not be possible to conduct a perc test until the summer.   Mr. Schroeder added that Foresight had included septic areas in their build out analysis.

Olga Weiss commended BNRC on their proposal, noting the improvement from the first time the effort of conserving Undermountain Farm had been brought before the CPC.

Ms. Ellrodt clarified the options—the town could help fund the protection of the entire parcel, or there could be some compromise and a lot could be carved out to help fund the conservation.

Mr. Keator asked why the owners of the parcel, the Spragues, did not carve land off. He noted there are three parts of the proposal: the 10 acre area of farm buildings; the 83 acres of farm land, and the 63 acres at the southern end of the parcel. Mr. Schroeder said it was very rare in conservation to have a single owner of such land owner interested in conservation. He assured the committee that if the Spragues had wanted to carve out an acre or a lot for development and then propose a conservation restriction, he’d still be making the same proposal. Mr. Keator stated that he felt like the town had been kept out of the conversation until the proposal came before the CPC requesting funds.

Ms. McNulty-Vaughan states that some people in town did know about the proposal, and she wasn’t sure what the committee could achieve by dissecting the conservation plan and proposal. She noted that CPC can really only do open space in this instance, and noted that they had information from two sources: Foresight and Ms. Miller, who both indicated there is land within the Undermountain Farm parcel that could be developed.

Mr. Strauch pointed out that without the purchase of a conservation restriction there may be no public access.

Ms. Weiss pointed out that there is value to having a single parcel of scenic, open space so important to the character of Lenox.

Mr. Harwood pointed out that the parcel has scenic value, but it also would connect two publically owned areas, including Lenox watershed land.

Mr. Chague pointed out that future development on that site may not take the form of a house, but could take the form of a solar installation. Ms. Weiss asked if the area could be used for recreation with a conservation restriction. Mr. Keator said it could be used for passive recreation such as canoeing or walking trails.

Mr. George Darey stated the greatest asset in Lenox is natural beauty, and that the view coming down Undermountain Road and seeing Monument Mountain and Rattlesnake Mountain is his favorite view. He discussed his mentor, Mr. Kennedy, who knew much about the area, and who donated 54 acres for preservation. Mr. Kennedy told Mr. Darey that if the upper section of Parson’s Marsh ever became available for preservation and passive recreation, the town should acquire it. Mr. Darey continued to say that it is a wonderful opportunity to protect something very important. He shared photos of the grand opening of parson’s Marsh in the 1980s. He noted that the plaque installed in honor of Mr. Kennedy is now underwater, and that nobody knows how much work went into getting the open spaces Lenox has now, including Post Farm and Edith Wharton Park. He said that nobody in Lenox is taking care of open space. He referred to his position as Chair of the State Fish and Wildlife Commission, saying there are not many tricks to land preservation, and that anything can perc with mounds. He reiterated that the conservation project of Undermountain Farm is a wonderful opportunity for passive recreation, and for wildlife habitat, as it is an area with plentiful geese and ducks, as well as a blue heron rookery. He called it a magnificent piece of property.

Mr. Keator responded by asking why the town would put money into o a property that it won’t maintain. Mr. Darey said that the BNRC does great work, and Mr. Schroeder stated that a good strategy could be that BNRC would manage the property.

Ms. Miller had provided the committee with material from the conditionally approved 2013 Open Space and Recreation Plan which identified Undermountain Farm and the western uplands as priority conservation area. Mr. Keator asked why it is an important area for conservation if there are only five lines in the plan talking about Parson’s Marsh.

Ms. Miller explained the amount of text devoted to a topic doesn’t accurately reflect its prioritization or importance in a plan. She also pointed out that the plan wasn’t developed in a vacuum—it is the product of a robust public process. She said plans such as the OSRP provide guidance as well as priorities.

Mr. Harwood asked how CPA funds are acquired. A committee member replied that there is $541,000 in the open space category of CPA funds, and that it has taken seven years to acquire that total.
  • Shakespeare and Company St. Martin’s Hall   Restoration Phase 1
The Committee discussed their site visit. Mr. Strauch asked how the building is historic. A discussion ensued regarding the standards upon which a building is determined to historic. Ms. Weiss indicated that age is an important factor.

It was suggested that one way to determine if it is historic is to see if it is on the state register, and if it is of local importance.

Mr. Strauch asked what the funding is actually for, and the committee agreed that it was for the “buttoning” of the building envelop. A committee member questioned whether this would be a case of throwing money into something that will need additional maintenance as time goes on. Mr. Harper agreed that it was not clear what the awarded money would fund.

Mr. Keator said he would like to see a three to five year action plan for the building.

Ms. Weiss suggested that the applicant is asking for a token or catalyst for a larger funding source. Mr. Harper suggested funding half of the request.

Ms. Miller said she would request the Mass. Cultural Facilities grant application and a 3-5 year action plan from Shakespeare and Company for the February 23 meeting.

  • Ventfort Hall Master Plan
The Committee discussed the Ventfort Hall Master Plan. Mr. Strauch appreciated that they used all of the seven considerations from the CPC application. The committee noted that this was another “plan for a plan”.

It was pointed out that it was difficult to find within the application exactly how much Ventfort Hall requested, though it was pointed out that they requested $30,000. Mr. Keator pointed out that they have no match yet, and that the CPC would be paying the first cost for a survey and that Ventfort Hall has yet to find out if they are on roller skates or horse shoes. Mr. Patella suggested that a condition be placed upon the grant agreement—that the applicant has to earn $37,650 before receiving $30,000 in CPA funds. The Committee has had funds returned before.  Ms. Weiss pointed out that the committee has been very critical of Ventfort Hall in the past, in reaction to their need for emergency funds and reactive restoration, and that they have returned to request funds for a proactive planning effort. Mr. Patella noted that planning is valuable. Mr. Harper expressed concern that it is not a long range business strategy, but funding to continue working with the Lenox building inspector. The committee briefly discussed the Mount’s proposal for funding to conduct a master plan, and Mr. Keator stated that it isn’t clear to him how a master plan would aid the Mount’s debt situation.

The committee continued to discuss the funding of plans versus projects for the remainder of the meeting. While some members recognize the value of having a plan in place for a group or organization to move forward and seek funding, other members worried that funding plans would require future plan implementation items.
The meeting adjourned at 9:10.

Lenox Town Hall  6 Walker Street, Lenox, MA 01240   PH: (413) 637-5500