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Plan for farm site gets high marks

Bradstreet land to fill four needs

When Rowley recently purchased the historic Bradstreet farm property on Main Street, it did so with more than one purpose in mind.

The town, which is using its Community Preservation Fund to pay for the $2.75 million acquisition, plans to conserve much of the 102-acre site as open space. But it also intends to incorporate affordable housing, historic preservation, and, if possible, new recreational fields on the property.

Rowley's plan is notable because it involves the potential use of all four of the functions allowed under the Community Preservation Act. The 2000 state law enables cities and towns to carry out preservation initiatives through funds generated from a property tax surcharge and matching state dollars.

Stuart Saginor, executive director of the Community Preservation Coalition, a statewide group that promotes local adoption of the law, said many communities have combined two of the fund's allowable uses on a single site. But he said not many had accomplished three, and he is not aware of any combining all four.

"The Bradstreet project is a phenomenal example of exactly how the CPA is supposed to work," said Saginor, a Boxford resident who until recently chaired his town's Community Preservation Committee. "To bring together a lot of different needs of the community onto one parcel and really use that land effectively is what the CPA is all about. Rowley has done a terrific job in really being a visionary to understand how powerful the CPA can be in that regard."

Saginor noted that state lawmakers required that each local Community Preservation Act committee, which recommends expenditures from the funds, include a broad cross section of the community.

"They wanted to bring a lot of diverse viewpoints to the table, to have people start working together on these mixed-use projects," he said. "With land so expensive and so scarce in Eastern Massachusetts, we have to be really creative about using parcels to their full potential."

Susan Moses, a member of Rowley's Open Space Committee and a prime mover behind the town's acquisition of the Bradstreet property, said the town's decision to seek varied uses of the land was in part practical.

At least 10 percent of a Community Preservation Fund's annual revenue must be used for each of its three main purposes: open space, affordable housing, and historic preservation projects. The remaining 70 percent can be used for one or more of those categories, as well as recreation projects. Rowley needs all its fund revenues to repay borrowing costs for the land purchase, Moses said, and thus had to include housing, historic preservation, and open space uses to follow the law's requirements.

But she said the town also recognized that the law encourages multiple uses, noting that most communities rank projects with more than one use higher than those with a single use.

"I think it's exciting," Planning Board chairman Cliff Pierce said of the town's ability to potentially combine the four allowable uses on one site, noting that promoting those uses is also a goal of Rowley's master plan.

Pierce and Moses have both been appointed by the Board of Selectmen to a committee that will develop recommendations for Town Meeting -- either this fall or next spring -- on where the different uses would go on the site.

Special Town Meeting voters last Nov. 13 voted unanimously to authorize the town to borrow and spend $2.75 million for the land after proponents pointed to its importance to the town. In May, the town closed on its purchase of the land from the Bradstreet family.

"This has been a signature Rowley property for centuries, both in terms of its history and its natural resource value," Moses said.

Until its sale to the town, the Bradstreet farm was one of a dwindling number of "King's Grant" properties -- those given by the British crown -- still in the hands of the original family. The 102 acres form the bulk of the land plot that King Charles I granted in 1635 to Humphrey Bradstreet, ancestor of the current Bradstreets.

The land has remained in use as a farm over the centuries. In the 1940s, the farm ceased to be a full-fledged operation, but through arrangements the family made with local growers, farming has continued on the land, including vegetable production for a time, and hay cultivation.

The property is one of the largest parcels of open space in town. About 60 percent of it lies within the state-designated Great Marsh Area of Critical Environmental Concern, a portion of the 20,000-plus- acre salt marsh area known as the Great Marsh. The parcel abuts the town's approximately 24-acre Warehouse Lane Conservation Land, and about a mile of it fronts the Rowley River.

Moses said Town Meeting discussed setting aside approximately 80 percent of the land as open space. Of the remaining land, a portion would be set aside for the development of affordable housing -- how much land and how many units are among the questions the new committee will be exploring.

An 1830 farmhouse, an adjacent barn, and the land surrounding them, meanwhile, would be sold with restrictions placed on the deed to require the historic preservation of the property. Moses said the intent is for that part of the site to be sold for residential or agricultural uses.

The town is exploring possible development of athletic fields next to the Pine Grove School. Moses said it will have to be determined whether the area is us able, since some of it is wetlands. Another question is whether the town can afford the cost of building and maintaining the fields. If not, she said, an option would be to designate the land for conservation and recreation, which would keep it undeveloped and leave open the possibility of building athletic fields.