By APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- With just a handful of attendees at Tuesday night’s public hearing, the decision of whether the Conservation Commission will purchase a $219,000 conservation easement on Merrill Orchards land now rests with the Town Council.
Located at 587 Mammoth Road, the parcel in question encompasses 22 acres abutting the Merrill family farm.
During the Tuesday night Conservation Commission meeting, commissioner Mike Speltz said the parcel is of particular interest because it would adjoin existing conservation easements to the south.
The land on the easement site rises from Mammoth Road across a low, wet area, sloping toward a steep hill that marks one of the highest points in Londonderry.
According to the property owners, the mostly wooded parcel hasn’t been farmed in recent history.
An existing farmhouse owned by the Merrill family is on the tax lot, though it won’t be included in the easement.
Referring to slides of the site’s unique environmental features, Speltz said nearly the entire parcel is considered to be supporting landscape, which ties in with the commission’s action plan to provide a natural buffer to the town’s wetlands, since the wetlands support many species of wildlife. The land also contains remnants of a former trolley path and a large Appalachian Oak Pine habitat.
Speltz said a recent appraisal revealed the site could hold three house lots, and if the land were instead developed, its value would be an estimated $505,000.
Funds for the proposed purchase are available in the town’s open space fund, which is funded mainly using money from land use change taxes. For the past several years, the economical climate has made it unfeasible to place open space bond items on the March ballot, commissioners noted, and this year is no exception.
With little comment from the public, the Conservation Commission voted unanimously Tuesday evening to recommend the purchase to the Town Council.
The town holds agricultural easements at both Sunnycrest and Moose Hill orchards, with 1,088 acres of the town’s 3,610 protected acres falling under conservation easements.
A final decision on the proposed easement purchase will be made during a Town Council meeting sometime next month.