Trust buys tech-park land


NORWAY – Thanks to the Western Foothills Land Trust, the Roberts Farm will once again return to Norway, if only in name.

For a price of $310,000, the nonprofit conservation organization will become the owner of a 150-acre parcel on Pike’s Hill that at one time had been expected to hold a technology park proposed by the Growth Council of Oxford Hills.

At a small ceremony Thursday, Robert Van Nest and Lee Dassler of the trust signed a purchase agreement with John Shattuck, executive director of the Growth Council.

“This is so amazing,” said Dassler as the signing took place. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

The Growth Council will retain a 10.5-acre parcel on Pike’s Hill Road, while the land trust will receive the rest of the property.

The agreement gives the land trust the “exclusive and irrevocable right” to purchase the property up to and including Sept. 28. Until then, the land trust is obliged to pay the Growth Council $2,133 a month toward the council’s interest-only payments on the property. Van Nest and Dassler gave Shattuck a down payment of $31,000 to begin payment at Thursday’s meeting. Neither organization is allowed to subdivide the 150-acre parcel.

Dassler said the trust will emplyseveral methods to help pay the remaining $279,000, including the use of capital, grants, and donations.

“We’ll be relying on the community to help us out with this,” she said.

Dassler said the land trust may apply for loans if it is unable to pay off the entire amount before the September closing date.

Six towns were recently affected by the Growth Council’s about-face on plans to build a tech park on the site. The council had proposed the idea in 1997 and purchased the property in 2002.

Shattuck said the sale will help those towns recoup their losses and to do something positive for the community.

“And, boy, I think this hits a home run,” he said.

“It’s got great benefits for Norway,” agreed Dassler, “but it actually benefits all the towns of the Oxford Hills.”

Renaming the property as the Roberts Farm reflects the land trust’s hope to revive the heritage of the property. The Roberts family owned the property from 1884 until 2000, operating a dairy farm on the hill for some time.

John A. Roberts contacted the land trust in 1999 to inquire about protecting his property. However, the land was purchased by Richard Penley for timber harvesting after Roberts’ death the next year. The land trust met frequently with the council after its purchase of the land to negotiate a conservation easement.

In December, Van Nest and Dassler met with council officials to ask for right of first refusal if the tech park project were abandoned.

After an appraisal found the land to be worth $300,000, the land trust presented the council with a purchase proposal in April.

The trust plans to put in an access point the property off Roberts Road at an area with parking potential.

Van Nest said the forested parcel has a “tremendous potential” for trails, and hopes to put in 15 to 20 kilometers of 8-foot-wide trails that can be used for cross country running and skiing. He also said the land might be used for snowshoeing, bicycling, and horseback riding.

The land is not subject to taxes, but Dassler says the land trust will make annual donations to the town.