By Scott MacFaden, Director of Land Protection
On October 25, working closely with multiple partners including the town of Middleborough, the Native Land Conservancy (NLC), The Archaeological Conservancy (TAC), and the Compact for Cape Cod Conservation Trusts, Wildlands acquired Ja-Mar Farms, a 20.4-acre holding along the Nemasket River in Middleborough.
The site of a former turkey farm that last operated over a generation ago, the Ja-Mar Farms property includes over 1,100 feet of frontage on the Nemasket, an important tributary of the Wild and Scenic Taunton River, and scenic open fields juxtaposed with areas of wooded upland. It is within several areas identified as important wildlife habitat by the Commonwealth’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, including BioMap 2 Core Habitat.
In partnership with NLC and TAC, the town had worked for over a decade to achieve the preservation of the property and was slated to finalize a closing in late August; however, the town was unable to because of a complication involving an existing Conservation Restriction on a portion of the land (as further described below). With an expired Purchase and Sales Agreement and a private seller/developer anxious to complete the transaction, the town asked Wildlands to “pre-acquire” the property on its behalf to ensure that it wasn’t forever lost. NLC and TAC provided direct financial contributions to the purchase, while the Compact’s Thomsen Land Fund loaned the balance needed to close the deal to Wildlands and NLC. Wildlands’ pre-acquisition of Ja-Mar Farms is the first step in a journey that will culminate in our transferring the land to the town sometime in mid-2019.
The existing Conservation Restriction encompasses roughly half of the property’s acreage and was acquired by the town in 2010 when a full preservation outcome seemed unlikely. The town will eventually assign that restriction to NLC and TAC, but cannot do so until first working with its state legislative delegation to advance legislation that complies with the requirements of Article 97 to the Massachusetts State Constitution. This amendment was enacted in 1972 to establish procedures municipalities must comply with before taking any actions regarding municipally-held open space property interests. While intended as a type of procedural obstacle to converting municipally-held open space to other uses, or selling such lands, Article 97’s provisions apply even to situations such as the Ja-Mar Conservation Restriction assignment, which does not involve a conversion to non-conservation use.
An increasingly significant component of our land protection work involves pre-acquiring properties for a partner entity, typically a public agency. In most cases, nonprofit organizations like Wildlands can mobilize more quickly than our public partners can, a particular benefit when prompt action is required to ensure a property’s preservation. We are pleased that we could be of service to the town of Middlebrough and the other partners involved with this project, and look forward to working with them to achieve the preservation outcome long envisioned for the Ja-Mar Farms property.