Dates Set for Leicester Town Meeting (MA)

LEICESTER, Massachusetts, 12/16/03: The Leicester Board of Selectmen voted tonight to set the official dates for an upcoming special town meeting and subsequent election for town acquisition of the Hillcrest property-a 310-acre parcel on Pleasant Street-on the grounds that the property will provide the town critical watershed protection and much-needed recreational opportunities. Town Meeting will be on January 27, 2004; the subsequent town election will be on February 5, 2004.

Acquisition is available to the Town for $3.8 million, which will cost the average taxpayer $77.00 per year over the term of the twenty-year bond proposed to fund the project. Part of the property will remain a popular municipal golf course, while the remainder would be used for watershed protection and well development.

The alternative to town acquisition is an intensive residential development of more than 200 new homes. Fiscal impact research has shown that the costs of new municipal services will exceed the tax revenue that would be generated by a proposed residential development at Hillcrest. In other words, the development would be “revenue-negative” in that it would cost more in services than the town would receive in tax revenue.

Selectboard Chairman Mark Armington said, “We’ve devoted a lot of time, energy and money toward exploring this acquisition and it’s clear to the Selectmen that this is the smart thing to do. This is a conservative and cost-effective approach to preserving our water supply and ensuring recreational opportunities. We look forward to presenting this to the voters in January.”

Selectman Tom Brennan said, “We had a chance to buy this land a few years ago, and we passed it up. We realize now that we made a mistake then. What we have now is a second bite at the apple-something you rarely get in this business. Some folks in town may think they can’t afford the extra taxes, and I’d say to them that you can’t afford not to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Craig MacDonnell, Massachusetts State Director for the Trust for Public Land (TPL) said, “We are thrilled to be working with the town on this great recreation and water supply project. Between now and the January 27 town meeting we will continue to meet with board members and citizens regarding all of the issues presented by this fabulous opportunity.”

The Hillcrest property provides direct protection for Henshaw Pond, which supplies over 40% of the town with drinking water. Development of the property would directly threaten this water supply. In addition, the acquisition of the Hillcrest property would enable the town to develop new wells for an additional town-wide water supply.

Hillcrest Country Club is very popular among Leicester residents and visitors, and municipal golf courses have proven to be smart investments for Massachusetts towns. The acquisition plan calls for reserving two portions of the property for general municipal use in the future if so desired by the town. The golf course either could be continued as an ongoing recreational operation or could be used for other recreational uses, such as playing fields, playgrounds, or park areas.

Development pressure is high in Leicester and throughout the region. Protecting the centrally located Hillcrest property from this kind of pressure will not only ensure drinking water quality and create multiple recreation opportunities, it will preserve town character and provide flexibility for future municipal land needs.