|Beaton Farm homestead overlooking Manchaug Pond.|
Yes, you read it right! The ball is in our court!
We have the once in a lifetime opportunity to preserve up to 100 acres directly abutting Manchaug Pond! The Beaton Farm Property is the most significant parcel of property in our watershed, after the dam, to Manchaug Pond and the area.
Check out the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle’s April 25th report of the public hearing: the developer’s proposal, testimony from the neighborhood, the MPF, and the unanimous vote of the Sutton Board of Selectman to assign a right to purchase to the community.
Beaton property goes to Manchaug Pond Foundation…for now
The Board of Selectmen unanimously voted at their April 16 meeting to assign dozens of acres a right of first refusal to the Manchaug Pond Foundation (MPF).
A public hearing under Massachusetts General Law 61A was held to discuss whether or not the town would act to purchase the Beaton property, located on Waters Road adjacent to Waters Farm, assign those rights to a qualified third party or else allow the land to be purchased by The College of the Holy Cross as a retreat center. There are five parcels, a total of approximately 100 acres involved, some of them in neighboring Douglas. The price of the entire property is set at $1.925 million, though the town’s right of first refusal extended only to about 70 percent of the land up for sale.
The Beaton land is classified as agricultural under Chapter 61A meaning it can only be used for agricultural uses and in return the owners pay a lower tax rate. When land comes out of 61A in order to be sold, the municipality has the right of first refusal. MPF has 90 days to act or the land goes to Holy Cross.
|West cove’s 875 ft of shoreline will go to the developer.|
Town Administrator Jim Smith said he has been working with MPF, a nonprofit public charity, for a few months in hopes the town could assign its rights, which would not develop the land. However, the MPF has been unable to put together the necessary resources, said Smith. He told the selectmen the Holy Cross plan would have “a minimal impact on the property and will work hard to be a good neighbor.”
The college’s lawyer, Robert Longden of Bowditch and Dewey, said the college told the town in January it wanted to establish a religious retreat center on the land though at that time it had yet to develop specific designs, waiting until the town decided on what it would do with its right of first refusal. He noted the college would work closely with the appropriate town agencies if the time came but wanted to give everyone present some idea what the completed project might look like.
|Today’s Beaton Farm equestrian center which would be lost.|
Longden showed a map of the property, currently owned by Carolyn Beaton, noting only two of the parcels are classified as 61A-agricutural, what he called “the heart of this property,” a total of 69 acres. Two of the other parcels are in Sutton and the remaining one is located in Douglas. The Board’s decision was to decide whether or not to act on the town’s right to purchase those two parcels for $1.325 million.
Longden said the College’s plan was to construct a retreat center on the property. Part of this is going on retreat, where students can spend time in “contemplation, prayer and reflection.” Longden said Holy Cross does not have an adequate location for this on its Worcester campus.
Showing a preliminary design of the retreat center, Longden pointed out it would use only a small portion of the property. He said the college desired to preserve most of the site in its natural condition, which was exactly the type of atmosphere a retreat center needed.
There would be one main building containing a chapel, kitchen, dining hall, meeting rooms and other space. There would be several connecting additions with 50 bedrooms and a maximum of 60 beds for those taking part in the retreats. The front of the building would be heavily glassed and face toward the pond .
“All of this is designed to be compatible with the site, compatible with the property, to preserve the natural look of the property and to fit in with it and to also be compatible with the neighborhood in terms of its architectural design,” Longden observed. The entire square footage of the building and additions would be about 30,000 square feet.
The existing driveway would continue to exist, running down to where the horse farm is today. A parking lot for 20 vehicles would be built there and another circular driveway would lead down to the retreat center.
Longden said a meeting was held at Waters Farm with abutters back on Jan. 19 and some of their input was taken into consideration as well as other input received since that time. One thing he came away with was the sense the view of Manchaug Pond from Waters Farm and Waters Road is very important and the college was dedicated to preserving that view as a part of its plans. The retreat center was located in a place where that view would not be disturbed.
He also said he had been told about a parking area on Waters Road where new married couples liked to come and have their pictures taken with Manchaug Pond in the background. Even though this would become private property if the land was sold to Holy Cross, Longden said the college would still welcome people to come to that site for pictures.
Longden said he did not yet know how often the site would be used during the year, but currently the College conducts 50 retreats at other locations during the year and expects that number to increase. He said the condition of the site would encourage people to walk in the woods and along the shore, enjoying the quiet beauty.
He told the selectmen and residents he saw the retreat center as a very benign use of the Beaton property and one in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. The students visiting there would be under supervision by academic leaders. Most of the transportation would be done via vans and students would rarely drive their own cars. One abutter expressed a concern the construction vehicles coming onto the site would damage Waters Road, but Longden said the necessary machinery would be the same as for building houses thanks to the design and should have no impact.
Selectman Ken Stuart said he was trying to keep the emotion out of this, but “we think of this land as ours,” thanks to its close association with Waters Farm. He said if the town was in a better financial condition, “I would be the first to jump up and say, ‘we want this land.’”
Stuart said he would come right out and say what he thought was on everyone’s mind—it was a retreat center but there were college students involved. He expressed a concern with traffic on Waters Road at places where it was hard for more than one car to pass at a time. Longden said there could be no more than 60 people on site for an overnight retreat, citing the number of beds. He also told Stuart these students were on a supervised religious retreat and in no way were they there to “have a good time.” He said there would not be a lot of traffic generated by this facility. “People come here for a retreat and they stay there,” said Longden. “They don’t come to the retreat and go out and party at night and then come back.”
Longden said the plan was to have the retreat center secluded from the road with new trees added to screen the parking lot as well. He said there would not be few maintenance vehicles and food service trucks using the road. He also noted the site would not be inhabited when there were no retreats taking place.
Selectman Michael Chizy said his concern was the college might look to expand. Even when the town acquired Waters Farm, it had only been given to the town under the sponsorship of the Conservation Commission so as to resist the temptation to make too many changes, Chizy noted. He said if there was any money available, he would want to hold on to the Beaton property.
. . . but forever!”