Our family's conservation efforts for saving "Windrock" screeched to a halt on Tuesday night, with the Wareham Massachusetts Board of Selectmen voting 5-0 not to accept our conservation restriction (easement) and to put it back before Town Voters in the Fall. To say that this is a disappointment would be gross understatement. The Town voters have already voted to release Wareham's designated Community Preservation Act funds to purchase this conservation restriction, and now the Town will almost certainly forgo a Massachusetts Self Help Grant that would have reimbursed 56% of the purchase price.
The Selectmen were upset about the process by which the project was brought forward by the Town Community Preservation Committee and the Wareham Land Trust, rather than the merits of the project itself (though they still had unanswered questions about some of the fine print). In Massachusetts, unlike every other state, Mayors or Selectmen must sign off on a conservation restriction or it cannot go forward. There is no way to override them, even if the merits of a project are beyond dispute and the Commonwealth reviewer is prepared to certify that it meets the test for being in the public interest. For that reason, it is absolutely critical to understand local politics and not to anagonize Selectmen or back them into a corner with external deadlines or incomplete understanding. Tragically, that situation has occurred with our project in Wareham.
Yet we are not, as one email I received yesterday claimed, "dead and buried." You would think, from the amount of post-event email and phone communication we have been engaged with in the last 48 hours, that we were very much still in the race even if we lost the primaries. And unlike the subject of my allusion, you would be right. There are several options, including conservation outcomes, that could develop even with this setback. The obvious one is to work to satisfy the Selectmen's outstanding concerns about the project between now and October's Town Meeting and seek what assurance we can from them that at least a majority of the BoS will support the project if the voters do. Or we could try and restructure the deal with different partners and funding sources. Or we could start carving out and selling house lots (there are 4 Approval Not Required lots possible at the far end of the property). Other possibilities may present themselves. We do not have a great deal of time to sail an altered course, but we do have options.
Conservation transactions are intensely complicated: far more so than straight real estate sales. There are lessons to be learned here, but please forgive me if I decline to air them at this time. The Fat Lady has laryngitis, after all.