Westwood Renewing Talks with Hale for Conservation Restriction, Says Select Board Chair


Photo by Alvin Kho from Flickr. Hale Reservation, Westwood, MA.

Following a recent statement by Hale Education (Hale), indicating a breakdown of negotiations with the Town of Westwood to protect Hale's land in Westwood from development, Westwood Select Board Chair Marianne LeBlanc Cummings announced at Select Board's February 26th meeting that talks had resumed between the town and Hale.

 "The Town and Hale recently renewed discussion as to how we can collaborate to protect Hale's land," she said. Ms. Cummings noted that the topic would be discussed at the board's Executive Session. 

Unlike the public portion of Select Board's meetings, executive sessions are held privately, often to discuss matters such as contractual negotiations where public discourse could be detrimental to the town's strategies and negotiating positions.

At the time of this article posting, Hale has not changed its positioning statement on its website regarding the breakdown of talks. Hale's website continues to state:

"Hale's land in Westwood will remain unprotected, with no restrictions on land sale, development or program growth. The [Hale] board has agreed that after June 2024, Hale will turn its focus to change management and program development. If land conservation is someday contemplated again, it will require new discussions and an offer price based on the future value of the property."

The issue of a possible conservation restriction to protect Hale's land in Westwood from development has been on the table ever since Hale proposed it to Westwood in 2019. Westwood's Hale Task Force recommended the purchase in 2022, and the idea of a conservation restriction on Hale's land in Westwood has received positive statements in support from Select Board members at various times. A glaring question underlying throughout has been, where would funding for the $10 million purchase come from? 

While the conservation restriction enjoys support among many residents, other residents caution that it will result in higher taxes on top of recent tax increases. Westwood residents on October 18, 2021 approved the construction of the new Pine Hill Elementary School at a cost of $84.6 million. Meanwhile, there are more costly capital projects on the Town's wish list which will likely be making their way to upcoming town meetings for voter approval. They include funding for a new fire station headquarters, following residents' recent approval of funding a design for the new station. Another upcoming expense are renovations of Sheehan Elementary School, and other additional projects.

 Ms. Cummings did not directly address the issue of cost of Hale's conservation restriction. However, she followed her short update on the talks by suggesting a different mechanism to raise funds for Westwood's capital needs. Westwood Minute notes that establishing another funding source for Westwood's capital projects could help minimize property tax increases that would otherwise be needed to pay for such projects, while also removing those capital projects from competition with other town priorities for tax dollars.

Ms. Cummings proposes a 2 percent real estate transfer fee on buyers, not sellers, of Westwood real estate. She noted that she currently is drafting an article for possible consideration by Westwood Long Range Financial Planning Committee. 

Related articles:

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

OPINION: Westwood Voters' Voices Remain Unheard on Hale CR Opportunity

OPINION: Residential Property Taxes Continue to Rise in Westwood; More Overrides in Our Future

OPINION: Let's Put Safety First

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Note: The sales tax/transfer fee on homes in Westwood proposed by Select Board Chair Marianne LeBlanc Cummings would be in addition to the existing transfer tax of $4.56 per $1,000 (about 0.5%). On a home sold for $1 million (near the average in Westwood), the existing tax is $4,560. If the new tax is 2%, as proposed, this would be an additional $20,000 or a total tax of $24,560 on the sale of that home. A detail is that the existing tax is paid by the seller, while the proposed tax would be paid by the buyer.

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