WESTFORD -- Although they did not take a formal vote Tuesday night, selectmen indicated they will likely not exercise the town's right of first refusal to purchase a 26.44-acre piece of residentially zoned property on Main Street.
Two local developers -- David Guthrie of Westford and Christopher Finneral of North Chelmsford -- have signed a purchase-and-sale agreement to purchase the property at 64 Main St. known as the Agnew Property because it was owned by Mary Agnew.
Selectmen have 120 business days from when they first received the letter of intent in February, or until June 13, to exercise that right of first refusal.
Town officials convened a study group that included Selectman Chairwoman Andrea Peraner-Sweet and members of the Planning Board, Conservation Commission, Westford Conservation Trust, Conservation/Resource Planner Bill Turner and Director of Land Use Management Chris Kluchman.
Kluchman conveyed the study group recommendation to selectmen on Tuesday night: that selectmen not exercise the town's right of first refusal for the property, strongly encourage the Conservation Commission to pursue purchase of the lot on the rear half of the property for $200,000 as offered by Guthrie and Finneral in March for conservation purposes, and if the town chooses not to purchase that parcel, that it pursue a 30-foot trail easement for the portion of the Tom Paul Trail that crosses part of the lot.
"We're all cognizant of the trail and how important it is to the town," Peraner-Sweet said. "We would be looking to preserve that and not cut access off to the town."
The property contains a single-family home and is adjacent to single-family homes that front Main Street, Wheeler Lane, Brookview Drive and Ward Hill Road, as well as open space conserved as part of the Blanchard Farms development.
The study group had an appraisal done and the appraised amount was $620,000, which is less than the $700,000 purchase price Guthrie and Finneral signed in the purchase-and-sale agreement. If the town wants to purchase the property, Kluchman said Community Preservation Act funds cannot be used as CPA real property purchases may not exceed an appraised value of the property.
More than a half-dozen neighboring residents voiced their opposition to the study group's recommendation that the town not exercise its right of first refusal to purchase the property, none more adamantly than John Conway of 66 Main St.
"This is a case I will fight. I will bring in lawyers and I will drag this into court to keep my property," Conway said. "We own that property and to the point of interpretation, it is clearly zoned single family. We will debate that and discuss that as long as we can. I will bring every penny in my pocket to fight that."
Selectmen have until June 13 to exercise their right of first refusal, but if the town chooses to exercise the right and purchase the property, Kluchman said the town must hold a special Town Meeting before then to approve the purchase. Because the warrant has to be posted 14 days prior to the special Town Meeting, the board must decide by its May 27 meeting whether to convene one.
"I get how important this is to people here and I wish we had money to do anything anyone would want, but $700,000 is a lot of money," said Selectman Kelly Ross. "The town has a lot of priorities and I imagine higher priorities for most people in town. I can't see devoting $700,000 to this priority, however, if there is an opportunity for another buyer. I would want to give that every opportunity to succeed. There is no rush on our part. I wouldn't schedule a special Town Meeting at this point."
Selectmen will discuss the issue again on May 27.