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Westerly voters approve 433-acre purchase

WESTERLY — An additional 433 acres in Bradford will be preserved as undeveloped, open space following a referendum Thursday during which voters approved spending up to $1.3 million for the land. Of the 986 votes cast at two polling places, 771 favored the purchase and 215 opposed the initiative. There were 17,442 voters eligible to participate in the referendum.

Town Council President Diana Serra was at Town Hall as the official results were announced by Cathy Brayman, deputy town clerk.

“I want to thank the voters for supporting this purchase to protect the aquifer and future well sites,” Serra said.

The land, in 12 lots, is adjacent to existing public drinking water wells. The town will issue a general obligation bond of up to $1.3 million for the land. The referendum was the culmination of two years worth of discussions between the council and owner Mary Lucey and her representatives.

“I want to praise the council for having the foresight to put this bond to the voters,” Serra said. “I think we all worked hard. The voters approved this purchase but they also backed the council.”

Serra stressed that the land, which adjoins the state-owned 819-acre Woody Hill Management Area, will be preserved as open space and used only for passive recreation such as hiking. “That is the wording of the question and we will stick by that. That is the law,” Serra said.

Some critics of the purchase said they were concerned the land might be used for athletic fields in a manner similar to how part of the town-owned Bradford Preserve is now being used. Residents approved purchasing the preserve property, which was also owned by Lucey, in 2007.

Serra said the council will continue to work on an application to the state for a grant of up to $400,000 from the state Department of Environmental Management to help defray a portion of the purchase price. The town must match any amount the state approves.

Town Councilor Kenneth Parrilla, who was also at Town Hall to hear the voting results announced, expressed gratitude to the seller.

“We have to thank Mary Lucey for working with the town on the price of this. Her wish was to preserve this land as open space,” Parrilla said.

Parrilla, vice chairman of the council, also praised the voters who approved the purchase. “I think the people who voted for this saw the merit in it,” he said.

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

The 92 votes cast by mail are expected to be counted today. Voters in Precincts 3601, 3603, 3604, 3605 voted at the Westerly Middle School and voters in Precincts 3602, 3606, 3607 voted at the Springbrook Elementary School. Those who voted at Westerly Middle School approved the purchase 534-121; those who voted at Springbrook school approved the purchase 237-94.

Serra said that the council recently met in a closed door, executive session with representatives of The Cherenzia Companies, the owners of property on White Rock Road. The Conservation Commission and some residents asked the council to explore purchasing the land as means to protect nearby drinking water wells in that section of town. Serra said no other meetings are scheduled with the company.

The Cherenzia Companies is The Westerly Sun’s landlord.

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