Last night, the Board of Selectmen again addressed Open Space issues at Barn Hollow. The board put to rest allegations made at their last meeting of selectmen acting “behind closed doors.”
Earlier this month, residents questioned the origins of a letter issued by the Building Inspector to Barn Hollow residents. It indicated selectmen may grant a “Non-Revocable License to utilize this portion of land”.
Town counsel, Aldo Cipriano, explained that the letter followed through on a decision discussed in open meetings prior to the Town Meeting about how to proceed if the parcel was accepted.
As for the treatment of open space as backyards in Barn Hollow, the issue was as contentious as ever. As usual, no one seemed completely satisfied with the outcome. That included selectmen.
Selectman Paul Cimino told disgruntled residents that voters made a mistake when they accepted the parcel. He said he was against it:
because [not accepting it] represented the best chance to have a comprehensive solution to this problem. And I said on the floor at Town Meeting that if we accept this land, this is far from over. And here we are.
Selectman Bonnie Phaneuf counseled residents:
At sometime we have to pull back. And I think this is the right time. This is a very poor designed subdivision. I think we could have come up with something better that would benefit all of us. There is no benefit to this.
After hearing advice from Cipriano, the board opted not to issue a license to the homeowners. Instead, they will issue a letter defining current rights to mow town owned public space.
Cipriano, told the board that he didn’t believe a court would support stopping the “de minimus” encroachments of mowing the lawn. And he said pursuing that in court would be costly.
Several residents argued that the board was “opening a can of worms” for other encroachments to open space. They also argued that the granted rights were in opposition to the will of a 2/3 Town Meeting vote to accept the open space parcel.
Resident Whitney Beal argued that the town should issue a letter telling homeowners to cease mowing.
Barn Hollow homeowner, Brendan Leonard, rebutted that at previous public meetings no one had claimed they wanted the land to be overgrown and not mowed. He said the issue was created by the developer, left off the hook, and the town by waiting 10 years to mark the boundaries for open space.
Leonard said that if the right to mow is taken away or would be taken away upon sale, the home values would “drop drastically in value”. If that happened the homeowners would have no recourse but to sue. He and a neighbor pressed for a more permanent solution.
Cipriano stated that the board can’t legally issue “irrevocable” rights to any use of town land.
During the meeting, the board and counsel answered allegations that the letter was issued “behind the backs” of voters. Cipriano explained that it came from public meetings with the BOS and Planning Board before Town Meeting. They discussed alternative options should the town vote to accept the parcel. He said at the time that a license could be granted.
Due to issues with the deed and mortgage, there had been a delay in officially accepting the parcel as town land. Once that was resolved, the letter was issued in August, notifying neighors of the town acceptance and their standing.
Selectman John Rooney also explained his role in the letter. After Town Meeting, when a homeowner complained that he lost a prospective buyer over the open space issue, Rooney inquired about the status of the letter going out.
The board agreed last night that a new letter needs to be issued. There was no vote, as the letter still needs to be drafted and reviewed by counsel.
Letters will be customized for the homeowners with their specific rights. Mowing will only be allowed on the currently mowed sections abutting the backyards. The letter and photos will serve as record to remind that no further encroachments will be allowed. And homeowners will not be allowed to use open space for yard waste or any new plantings or encroachments.
The board will allow rights to transfer to new owners. But, the town has the ability to revoke that right at any time.
Members made it clear they have no interest in revoking unless further encroachments are made. But homeowners were worried about the uncertainty especially with future turnover in board members.