Voters agree to purchase 80 acres and donate less than one
By Courtney Llewellyn
Reminder Assistant Editor
EAST LONGMEADOW Every article on the warrant for the Annual Town Meeting that had a motion made upon it was approved by voters, including the donation of land for a new home for Sgt. Mark Ecker and the purchase of approximately 80 acres for open space and recreation.
Voters were asked first to approve or deny the proposal for the purchase of the open space, which includes the Brown Farm, off of Hampden Road. The total cost for the land and a land use study would be about $1.25 million. The land abuts 280 acres of conservation land.
A number of those in favor of the purchase made presentations at the town meeting, including Neb Obernesser of the East Longmeadow Soccer Association, Mike Salvon of the Community Preservation Committee, Rob Mack of the East Longmeadow Recreation Association, Tina Kingston of Friends of Heritage Park and Carolyn Porter of the Recreation Department.
Obernesser presented a slide show of possibilities for the land, which included a future recreation center for all ages, fields of flat land for sports teams, a place to relocate the Norcross House, the Little Red School House and the train depot to things like windmills and solar panels for the generation of natural power.
Mack explained why that flat land for fields is needed. Using baseball as an example, Mack said that there are currently 425 baseball players in town on 38 teams in four leagues. Those teams play 500 games a year, 300 of which take place in East Longmeadow. The most popular sport in town, however, is soccer, with more than 1,200 players.
"It's clear to us the fields are overused and never get a rest," Mack said.
Porter noted that if Community Preservation Act funds are not used for the purchase of the land, they can be used for its development.
"We need to take advantage of the real estate market," Selectman Jim Driscoll stated. He added that all properties involved are being sold at less than their appraised values.
While a number of committees involved recommended the purchase, Michael MacLeod of the Appropriations Committee said that his group could not recommend it because the voters received the financial information late and they had not seen a purchase and sale agreement. "The committee all likes the idea [though]," he added.
One resident asked how the town could ensure that Hampden Road and the property wouldn't be overdeveloped. Driscoll said that all project approvals are in the hands of voters. "We're only asking to buy a piece of property for open space right now," he stated.
Former Selectman Joe Townshend noted that six months ago, he said it was a bad time to be spending money and that the current economic situation is worse. He called the land purchase "a good thing," but doing it now, without having dollar amounts ready for the warrant, "is not a good way to do business."
The voters ultimately approved of the purchase.
What happens next?
"Town Counsel and the Board of Selectmen will negotiate a purchase and sale agreement," Driscoll told Reminder Publications. He expects the paperwork and purchase to go through within the next month.
The Appropriations Committee did approve of the warrant article to donate less than an acre of town-owned property to Sgt. Mark Ecker, an infantryman who lost both his legs below the knee while serving in Iraq. The land will hold a home to be developed by Homes For Our Troops and local tradesmen specifically for Ecker, who sometimes requires the use of a wheelchair.
Dan Hellyer, the town's Building Inspector, explained that water to the property, which is located on Arch Street, can come from the town or from a well, and that the land, which equals about 30,000 square feet, could potentially hold three homes but will only hold Ecker's.
"This is an opportunity for the town to step up," Gary Landers of the East Longmeadow Small Business Association said. "We're not asking you to go to Iraq; we're asking you to do something for someone who did."
While many speakers were in favor of the donation, resident Donna Utter stated that it was unfair of the Board of Selectmen to make those against the donation feel unpatriotic, and that she was in favor of keeping the land as green space. Some members of the town meeting booed her for saying this, and Moderator Jim Shiels thanked her for her comments before she said she was done.
Despite this issue, the voters overwhelmingly approved of the donation.
"I'm ecstatic for Mark and his family," Driscoll said after the meeting. "It brings an esprit de corps to the community."
The most recent fundraiser for the project, which took place on Mark Ecker Day, May 17, raised more than $3,000. Driscoll said a golf tournament is being planned as another fundraiser for September.
Voters also approved the town's $48,187,335 budget for fiscal year 2010, $2,938,313 worth of capital planning projects and $106,000 for community preservation projects.
No action was taken on a petitioned article to allow housing for those 55 and older in an industrial zoned area.