The city of Andover has reached a tentative agreement with another landowner to purchase property under its open space preservation program that voters approved in 2006.
This is the third attempt the city has made at purchasing property owned by James Selmer and Hazel Blanchette, located north of 161st Avenue, east of Hanson Boulevard and very near but not contiguous to other open space purchases made by the city.
Providing access for the public to enjoy this landlocked property has been the hold-up, but the Andover Open Space Advisory Commission did not want to give up on what it ranked one of the top prospective open space sites in the community, according to Gretchen Sabel, commission chairperson.
As she walked through a thick oak forest on a trail Selmer created to get to a tree stand for hunting, Sabel said it has been a goal for the commission to purchase this property because it is well preserved. As she walked to the property, she heard the call of sandhill cranes and spotted two in the sky.
The Andover City Council Sept. 16 approved a purchase agreement with Selmer and Blanchette to buy 40 acres for $345,000.
Selmer declined public comment until the sale closes on Nov. 21 Most recently, the council in May 2013 had approved a $300,000 purchase agreement for this same property, but the deal fell through.
“I’ve had a chance to walk the property and it’s quite a nice walk,” City Administrator Jim Dickinson said.
Finalizing a public access point remains a key question. Dickinson said the city will be looking at doing an administrative lot split so that a portion of the south half of this 40-acre property could be developed. It would be from this new neighborhood where people could access the open space.
By purchasing the whole property, Dickinson said, “The city can choose the best pieces for open space rather than whatever is left over from a development.”
A lot split would be necessary because the city could not use any of its open space funding for land that will be developed. Therefore, how much of the $345,000 comes from the open space fund has not been settled. This account currently has a balance of $495,000.
This would be the fourth open space purchase the city has made since residents approved a $2 million referendum in 2006.
The city paid Hope and Jeff Luedtke $930,000 for 38 acres along the Rum River in November 2009. The city named it Martin’s Meadows.
The second and third properties are contiguous 46 acres, named North Woods Preserve. Visitors can park at a new gravel lot on the east side of Hanson Boulevard, north of 161st Avenue. The city purchased 20.6 acres $320,000 in September 2010 from Karen and Larry Emmerich and 25.73 acres for $284,650 from Richard and Donna Aasness.
The Selmer-Blanchette parcel is not far north of North Woods Preserve, but will be separated by housing development. Sabel envisions people being able to walk through the neighborhood to go between the top open space areas, however.
Seeking out large sites was a stipulation the commission put in place from the beginning of this open space program. Sabel said it has focused on properties larger than 10 acres, thus eliminating most properties in southern Andover from consideration.
“The city has a lot of little parks. We wanted property big enough to stand on its own as a resource,” Sabel said.
These sites are much different than parks because of the lack of any playground equipment, picnic tables or pavilions. The emphasis is on preserving natural amenities. There cannot even be a paved trail, but all sites do have clearings for trails and Sabel said improving access and public awareness is one of the main goals of the open space commission, Sabel said.
In a citizen survey conducted this past February, 51 percent said they are aware of the open space program and of those, 61 percent said they have never visited any of the open space properties Andover purchased. Some who thought they visited an open space property listed park facilities such as Bunker Beach, Bunker Park or Sunshine Park as sites they have visited, but these are county or city parks.
Accessing the open space properties was seen as important to 78 percent of survey respondents.
Sabel said the open space ommission is brainstorming programming ideas such as public tours of the open space led by naturalists or Boy Scout and Girl Scout group visits.
“The classic way to reach adults is through their children,” Sabel said.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]