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This map depicts the 433-acre area in Bradford that will be the subject of a referendum scheduled for Thursday. The darkly shaded areas are the 12 lots that make up the entire 433 acres.The Westerly Town Council has proposed buying the land through the issuance of general obligation bonds for up to $1.3 million. The land will be preserved as open space and use limited, offcials say, to passive recreation such as hiking.

Westerly voters to decide on 433-acre purchase in Bradford

WESTERLY — Town councilors say spending up to $1.3 million to purchase 433 acres of land to be preserved as undeveloped open space in Bradford is a deal too good to pass up.

An official of the Bradford Fire District, however, says the proposed purchase would lead to higher taxes for residents of the village.

Voters will have a chance to offer their opinion Thursday during a referendum on the question of whether the town should issue a general obligation bond for the land, which is contiguous to the state-owned 819-acre Woody Hill Management Area.

Town Councilor Kenneth Parrilla called the referendum one of the most important the town has ever faced, saying purchase of the land would help protect public drinking water wells in Bradford. If the town doesn’t buy the land, Parrilla predicted it would move quickly on the open market “If I was a developer I would probably grab it up right away,” he said.

Dan King, former Bradford Fire District tax assessor and a resident of the village for 22 years, said taking the land off the town tax rolls through a town purchase will lead to higher taxes for Bradford residents.

“My concern is that over the past 22 plus years I’ve lived here, the town of Westerly has been buying up land as open space, which removes it from the fire district tax rolls, increasing fire district taxes,” King said.

The loss of tax base was a factor, King said, in Bradford being unable to maintain its own volunteer fire department. The Bradford Fire District is currently receiving services from the Dunn’s Corners Fire District under a short-term contract and is exploring a long-term arrangement.

According to King, Bradford has lost $4.2 million in assessed value, or 2.7 percent of the total district’s tax rolls, in 22 years.

King said he was also concerned that the land in the new purchase would not be preserved for passive recreation. He pointed to use of the Bradford Preserve for youth lacrosse programs.

“What’s to stop the same development or worse with lights, public address systems etc. with the new proposed purchase? Until the town of Westerly figures out how to manage its own property, and provide for local fire protection of that property, I will vote against any future acquisitions,” King said.

Town Councilor Christopher Duhamel said the land the council has proposed buying would be limited to use for passive recreation such as hiking, bicycling, and cross country skiing.

By purchasing the land, Duhamel said the town will be assured that the area cannot be developed with new houses that could bring the need for new roads and add students to the local schools. A portion of the land, which is broken into 12 lots, is next to the Copar Quarries of Westerly operation.

“This takes out the possibility of the quarry expanding in that direction,” Duhamel said.

The land is owned by Mary Lucey and was offered to the town at a discounted rate, reflecting Lucey’s desire for the town to take control of the property, town officials said. Lucey previously sold 57 acres to the town in 2007. That land is now the Bradford Preserve.

It’s estimated that the proposed bond issue would increase the annual tax rate by $0.02 per $1,000, according to a financial impact analysis on the town’s website. The annual cost per house based on the median home value of $310,000 would be approximately $6.53.

The cost to the town could be less if an application to the state Department of Environmental Management for a grant of up to $400,000 is approved. The grants are awarded in the fall, Town Manager Michelle Buck said.

Two polling places will be used. Voters in Precincts 3601, 3603, 3604, 3605 should vote at the Westerly Middle School Cafeteria and voters in Precincts 3602, 3606, 3607 should vote at the Springbrook School Gymnasium. Polls will be open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

This article was corrected at 1:49 p.m. on April 23.

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