Falmouth deals will add nearly 90 acres of open space

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FALMOUTH — Two significant parcels of land may be preserved as open space, one to be owned by the Falmouth Land Trust and the other by the town.

The Town Council on Feb. 9 approved a transfer of $400,000 from the seldom-used Parks Land Capital Fund to help FLT acquire Capall Creek Farm, or what is commonly known as Hurricane Valley Farm.

The property, in West Falmouth off Gray Road, includes more than 60 acres of open space, wetlands and farmland. The intent is to preserve the area as an agricultural farm as well as open space.

Executive Director Analiese Larson said FLT had been “waiting a long time for an opportunity like this.” She said the parcel has unique qualities, including great farm potential.

“It’s a rare open-space opportunity,” Larson said, which will allow permanent protection of scenic views, watersheds, agricultural lands, and trails for recreational purposes.

The land is already approved for a 17-lot home subdivision, but the FLT and the land owner, Kevin Smith, signed an agreement to permanently protect the former horse farm.

Larson said Smith approached FLT, which agreed to pay $700,000 for the property. The group has until June 15 to raise the remaining $300,000 to acquire and steward the land.

“Ultimately I really wanted to see it remain farm land and remain open space,” said Smith, who now lives in North Carolina on another horse farm.

Smith said he decided to “dual track” the process by putting the parcel up for someone to buy and maintain it as is, and look at a development, if necessary. He went through the subdivision process and received town approval for the 17-lot plan before meeting with FLT.

“After meeting with the Falmouth Land Trust it seemed like a natural fit for the both of us,” Smith said.

Jed Harris, the trust’s past president, said clearing the Town Council was first hurdle, and now FLT is on to due diligence and making sure the title is clear, as well as better understanding the existing subdivision.

“By mid-May we need to be able to show the seller we have a good chunk of the private fundraising accomplished,” Harris said. He said after they close, the next step will be the administrative process of vacating, or “undoing,” the subdivision.

The parcel also acts as a gateway to other conservations lands, including Wilshore Farms, Blackstrap Hill Preserve, and the Milburn property in Cumberland. It is located in a designated rural low-growth area by the Comprehensive Plan.

Bob Shafto, the town’s open space ombudsman, said the parcel was “exactly the kind of property that we dreamed of acquiring back when we first did the open space plan,” based on ratings from the Land Management and Acquisition Committee.

The ratings system scores properties based on criteria like parcel size, aesthetic quality, and opportunities for recreation. Shafto said this parcel is “probably the highest-rated open space parcel that we’ve ever considered purchasing.”

Harris said several people have already reached out about farming on the land, and FLT will eventually be putting out requests for proposals from various groups or farmers.

“We’re looking at what a lease with a tenant farmer would look like,” he said.

FLT officials will meet with Town Manager Nathan Poore in the coming weeks to construct a memorandum of understanding for the town to have first right of refusal in the event the trust ever decides to sell the parcel, or if the agricultural intent of the parcel is changed.

Hardy Road

Following council approval on Feb. 9, the town is being given nearly 24 acres of conservation space from developers building a handful of house lots associated with the Grove Forel Baek subdivision on Hardy Road.

Shafto said in years past, subdivisions like this would have put each housing lot on two acres, and the often rocky, wet or steep remaining land would be put towards conservation. Now, he said the lots have significantly less acreage, usually less than acre, which means more land can be conserved.

“There are three options developers have (for the 24 acres),” Shafto said. “They could give it to the town, they could give it to the land trust, or they could give it to a homeowners association.”

Because this land is between two existing town conservation properties, Shafto said the town was ultimately decided to be the best recipient.

“Normally the town doesn’t own conservation subdivision land,” he said. “… But in this case it made sense because it abutted two other town parcels to make that one, big contiguous parcel.”

Shafto said public access is the benefit of town ownership, rather ownership by a homeowners association. He there is an existing snowmobile trail on the parcel, and the opportunity for greater trail connectivity.

“By having the town own it we guarantee the public access and continued ability of people to walk on the property or use it for recreation,” Shafto said.

No money changed hands in the deal. Risbara Brothers Construction Co. of Scarborough gave the parcel to the town outright, Shafto said, per Planning Board and ordinance requirements.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Sidebar Elements

The Falmouth Land Trust is seeking to acquire the more than 60-acre Hurricane Valley Farm for $700,000. The town approved transferring $400,000 from the Parks Land Capital Fund to partially fund the purchase, and FLT will raise the rest through a private campaign.

Falmouth was given nearly 24 acres of open space conservation lands by the Risbara Brothers Construction Co. to expand the Hardy Road Conservation Area.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.