TOWNSEND -- Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday to allow the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to purchase a 19-acre parcel of land on Barker Hill Road, preventing two single-family homes from being built on the lot.
In exchange for collecting reduced taxes on the property, the town held the right of first refusal if the property were to be sold. DCR had requested that the town transfer that right to the state, enabling it to buy the land for its $135,000 market value.
"This opportunity doesn't come around very often, and it is a beautiful piece of property and I think it should be enjoyed by the people of Townsend and surrounding communities," Selectman Colin McNabb said.
Chairwoman Sue Lisio agreed that DCR should be able to purchase the land.
"I am admittedly biased toward conservation efforts," Lisio said. "I'll fight right along with everyone else to maintain as many natural locations as we could possibly have."
Conservation Agent Leslie Gabrilska said that the Conservation Commission voted unanimously at its March 12 meeting to support selectmen assigning the right to buy the property to DCR in order to preserve the land for residents to enjoy.
The land, which is bounded on two sides by Townsend State Forest, is a natural extension of that area, Gabrilska said, featuring scenic views and stone walls.
"It should be open to the public. I just couldn't bear the thought of it just being a homeowner, and to put a house up there would create a buffer between the state forest.
Resident Emily Norton, who founded conservation organization Friends of Willard Brook, urged selectmen to transfer the right to purchase the property to DCR.
"The chance to protect this parcel comes one time only, and if we don't use that one chance its gone forever," Norton said.
She said that Townsend should make a priority of preserving its natural resources.
"If we think into the future, as Massachusetts becomes more developed, Townsend becomes more and more of a treasure for the commonwealth because of its beautiful natural spaces, so I think it's a great idea to protect that land," Norton said.
Brian Mohr, who had planned to buy the property to build the two houses, offered to sell 12 of the 19 acres to DCR, keeping seven acres to build on.
DCR representative Christine Berry said that while she appreciated the idea, she did not believe DCR would be interested in that proposal.
"I think by dividing the property in such a way I think it would really lose a lot of its conservation integrity," Berry said.
DCR plans to incorporate the land into Townsend State Forest and dedicate it to recreational use.
The property owner did not speak at the public hearing.
Follow Chelsea Feinstein on Twitter and Tout @CEFeinstein.