Local Land Trusts Urge Westwood, Dover Residents to Protect Public Access to 1,200 Acres of Hale Property


Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. Pictured is a recreational visitor's perspective of Hale Education's Noanet Pond, while rowing a canoe.

The Trustees of Reservations (The Trustees) has announced this week that it is joining forces with Westwood Land Trust and Dover Land Conservation Trust to raise awareness among residents of Westwood and Dover about the opportunity to preserve open space within their respective towns which together represents “the largest tract pursued for preservation in the greater Boston region in many decades, harkening back to the great era of parks creation in the early 1900s.”

The issue facing residents of Westwood and Dover is whether to purchase a conservation restriction on Hale property located within each town, at a cost of $10 million per conservation restriction. The conservation restrictions offer an opportunity to protect from development approximately 1,200 acres of open space owned by Hale Education (“Hale”, formerly Hale Reservation). About 555 acres is located in the Town of Westwood. An approximate 663 acres is located in the Town of Dover.

While Hale has a history of being open and accessible to the public, it is privately owned. It could be divided and sold to developers at the market rate. The proposed conservation restrictions – one in Westwood and one in Dover – would “permanently prevent residential subdivision of the land and guarantee public access to miles of trails in perpetuity,” say The Trustees.

The Trustees describe the property: “The land features an extensive 15-mile trail system, four ponds, acres of beautiful beachfront, woodlands, and meadows. . . [T]he land is frequented annually by thousands of residents and visitors for passive recreation including walking, birding, hiking, biking, snowshoeing, and swimming. Hale Education also hosts community events, camps, school programs and other outdoor education on the property."

In 2019, Hale attempted to ensure its long-term financial stability and permanently protect its land from development by offering Westwood and Dover a conservation restriction for $10 million each. A conservation restriction is a permanent restriction on land, prohibiting activities such as development, in order to preserve it in its natural, scenic, open, agricultural or forest condition, while permitting public recreational use. 

Now, about four years after Hale’s initial offer, the price tag remains the same. However, the appraised 2021 market value of Hale's 1,200 acres is over $90 million ($55.4 million in Westwood and $35 million in Dover) if the land were to be available for development. 

In an appraisal commissioned by the Town of Westwood in October 2021, Hale’s 555 acres of property in Westwood was valued at $55.4 million. With a hypothetical conservation restriction in place on the 555 acres, the appraised value dropped to about $13.86 million. Therefore, the value of a conservation restriction in Westwood could be considered the difference between the two values, or about $41.5 million. 

Additionally, another appraisal put the value of Hale’s developable land in Dover at $35 million. If a conservation restriction is in place in Dover, the same property would be valued at $15 million, with the result that the value of Dover’s conservation restriction can be considered the difference, or $20 million.

In addition to proposing to sell the two conservation restrictions for $20 million, Hale has committed itself to raising an additional $26 million from private donors. Hale plans on securing a total of $46 million to fund an endowment, support Hale's facilities, operations, and mission, and remove the risk of needing to sell Hale's land to developers.

In January 2022, Westwood’s Hale Task Force submitted a recommendation to Westwood Select Board that was strongly in favor of preserving Hale's property in Westwood. The Task Force recommended that Select Board present an article at Westwood's Town Meeting to obtain funding for that very purpose. The Task Force’s recommendation came on the heels of public statements, by all three members of Dover's Board of Selectmen, in favor of preserving Hale's property in Dover.

For the conservation restrictions to be put into place, the $10 million of funding must be approved by a two-thirds majority vote by residents of Westwood and Dover at their respective Town Meetings. Because an approval would trigger Proposition 2 1/2 (the Massachusetts law that limits annual property taxes in a town), a second vote to pass a debt exclusion would be needed in each community.

In Westwood, the proposed conservation restriction would be held by the Trustees and the Town of Westwood. The conservation restriction in Dover would be held by the Trustees and the Town of Dover. The Trustees is the nation’s oldest land conservation organization and is the largest non-profit holder of conservation restrictions in Massachusetts.

The two proposed conservation restrictions in Westwood and Dover could have a much larger impact than the 1,200 acres that they cover. They would result in “close to 3,000 acres of contiguous land [that] will be forever preserved for public access,” according to The Trustees, because they will build upon the existing, contiguous, conservation land. Hale’s property abuts the Trustees-owned properties of Powisset Farm (109 acres) and Noanet Woodlands (595 acres). It also abuts conservation land already protected by Westwood, Dover, and land trusts.

“By protecting these beloved 1,200 acres, generations to come will benefit from the restorative beauty, passive recreational access, and important environmental resources the land provides to all, forever,” stated representatives of Westwood Land Trust, Dover Land Conservation Trust, and The Trustees in a joint statement.

Public information sessions on this topic are being held on two upcoming days this month. The first two sessions will be held on Wednesday, June 21, 2023 at Powisset Farm in Dover. Another two sessions will be held on Thursday, June 22nd at the Main Branch of the Westwood Public Library.

Thanks to the Trustees of Reservations for contributing information for this article.

You may also enjoy:

Westwood Follows Dover in Recommending Preservation of Open Space at Hale

- Select Board Meeting: Town Makes History and SB Revives Issues of Conservation Restriction, Long-Term Financial Planning Committee

- Select Board Votes to Close $1.1 Million School Building Funding Gap; Considers Whether to Skip Fall Town Meeting

    Westwood's Select Board Officially Reconstitutes Long Range Financial Planning Committee by Appointing New Members

    I'm interested
    I disagree with this
    This is unverified