SOUTHAMPTON — On Jan. 23, a half dozen boards and committees were convened during the Selectboard’s meeting for a discussion on land acquisition. Board members have long heard about needs for more ball fields at the park, acreage for the public safety complex, square footage for a senior center and land for affordable housing.

“Whatever it may be, we’ve heard all of that, over time,” said Selectboard Chair Christine Fowles. “We have a potential land acquisition before us, that we wanted to talk about tonight, at 0 College Highway.”

The property along Route 10, also known as College Highway, is located across from the Cumberland Farms and a shopping plaza. Landowners James and Eugene Labrie offered to donate 4.2 acres there to the town. The Labries will donate the land to the town exclusively as a location for the new public safety complex, which the town direly needs.

Acting Town Administrator Ed Gibson offered a historical overview. After offering to donate the land, Gibson said the Labries were subsequently approached about selling a commercial building lot located between the donated acreage and Route 10. The Labries own four building lots along the highway, about an acre each, though the lots have yet to go through the Planning Board and zoning processes.

The easternmost lot is being sought by town officials to serve as a driveway for emergency vehicles. The lot would add enough square footage to enable a driveway between the facility itself and the highway. Then, Gibson explained, the facility “will have direct access … for the emergency vehicles getting out on Route 10.”

The Labries offered the town three options. According to Gibson, the brothers are willing to negotiate the sale of the commercial lot — but the deal may come to encompass much more land, three parcels with a total of 54 acres. Therein lies an opportunity for officials to address the other land needs of the town.

“It’s an opportunity,” Gibson said. The Selectboard wanted to “start talking about … the acquisition of the entire 54 acre parcel.”

A real estate purchase would require a vote of Town Meeting. That won’t take place until May, a narrow window of a few months to negotiate and execute a purchase and sale agreement. Fowles thinks it’s an opportunity that may not be available to the town in the future.

“We really need to put our heads together … and use our visionary thinking about it,” Fowles said. “I don’t think there’s much land left in Southampton for uses such as this.”

Selectboard member Jon Lumbra, also chair of the local School Committee, pointed out the added flexibility if the town purchases the whole 54 acre plot. He pointed out the four acres required for the public safety complex could be carved out anywhere on the larger parcel. Selectboard member Stephen Thor Johnson also thought about future growth of the tax base.

“One of the board’s interests is … commercial development,” Johnson said. “That’s something we should keep our eye on … as well as growth.”

He noted that the proposed rail trail runs adjacent to the property.
Janet Cain, chair of the Senior Center Building Committee, reminded the board that her committee strongly recommended 89 Clark St. as a location for the new senior center. Dan LaValley spoke on behalf of the Planning Board. LaValley said the Planning Board was firmly committed to preserving the four commercial lots, an avenue for future development.

Johnson commented on some of the undesirable characteristics of the property. It lies in an aquifer protection zoning overlay and has no running water or sewer. Johnson also said a municipal campus at the location would be a good use, much less impactful than a housing development, for example.

“We have an opportunity to completely reenvison this and it might be a campus of uses supported on a really sufficient infrastructure … if the town decides to grow,” Johnson said.

Kristina Madsen, 40 Rattle Hill Rd., co-chair of the Public Safety Building Committee — and also a member of the original Master Plan Committee — said the Labrie land was considered a key for future growth.

“This parcel was identified as the most important parcel for the town to have,” Madsen said. “It was identified then for housing.”

Gibson used a map to show the possibility that the town could sell three of the commercial lots, and one other piece of the 54 acres, to recoup much of the purchase price. No final decision was expected at the meeting, but rather some input from town board and committee members was sought.

Mark Darnold read the federal Department of Agriculture report on soils at the proposed site. He said the site is characterized by two types of soils, Hinkley and Merrimack, acceptable for the anticipated uses.

“They’re very good soils,” Darnold said. “This is a very developable site from a drainage and sanitary disposal standpoint.”

“It’s gonna be a heavy lift in front of Town Meeting,” Fowles said. “If we’ve got four, five, six committees that are all joined together on this it’s going to be a heckuva lot easier … to make an argument for this.”

The general consensus of committee and board members attending was the 54 acre site is an essential purchase for the town. The Selectboard will confirm plans for an appraisal, contact the sellers for an asking price, and gather more specifics on the boundaries of the property.

“I think it would be a home run for the town of Southampton,” Gibson said.

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