LONDONDERRY — Local landowners whose properties were identified as vital to the town’s green mission gathered inside the Town Hall Monday night to learn how they can help preserve their town’s natural resources for future generations.
More than 30 residents attended the informal public workshop, which was hosted by Conservation Commission member Mike Speltz.
A handful of those residents own property that is currently protected by a conservation easement, Speltz said, stressing the importance of Londonderry’s wetlands and farmlands.
The local landowners, who were notified of the meeting earlier this month, were presented with several options during the meeting: independently managing the land as open space; donating or selling a conservation easement to the town or another conservation agency to place legal protection on the land and prevent future development; or donating or selling the land itself.
Those opting for the latter would have the option of retaining their right to use the property for the span of their lifetime, commissioners noted.
“There is no taking of land for conservation purposes,” Speltz stressed.
Speltz outlined each potential process for the local landowners.
One option for landowners would be to work with such agencies as the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests to assist them in independently maintaining their own open spaces, he said.
For those who are interested in a conservation easement, landowners can enjoy their land’s value while preventing future development.
“That way, you can still sell the land but the new owner would be subject to those restrictions,” said Speltz. “It may be you’re tired of mowing the grass and you want to sell. In that case, you could sell it to a conservation buyer.”
For those who are able to do so, gifting the land to either a conservation organization or the town can lower property tax payments, he said.
Town Council Chairman John Farrell urged the citizens to provide as much information as possible to the town when attempting to negotiate possible land or easement purchases.
“Doing as much up-front homework as you can do will definitely help us in the process,” said Farrell. “Your story is a good thing to share with us, because usually it’s not as black and white as it appears.”
Several landowners had some questions for Speltz and his fellow commissioners, with many wondering how zoning rules might apply to industrially or commercially zoned lands included in the green infrastructure plan.
Farrell stressed that the green infrastructure plan “is not a legal document,” and noted that the open space books “have run out of money.”
However, he said a land stewardship plan, mainly to preserve the town’s drinking water, is still consistent with the Town Council’s goals.
“Nothing can sneak in the back door,” Speltz replied, noting that any town purchase would need to go before the Planning Board and Town Council before anything gets finalized.
In 2010, the Town Council formed the Open Space Task Force, giving the Conservation Commission permission to work toward preserving the town’s natural resources.
Since 1978, the town has spent $15 million toward protecting its resources, though an open space bond has not appeared on the Londonderry ballot since 2006.
A total of 821 acres is protected at no direct cost to the town, including land protected through development mitigation, state wetlands ordinances or other such means.
In all, the town has 4,047 acres of permanently protected lands, accounting for 15 percent of the town. Those sites are sprinkled evenly throughout the town.
“You and your land have been providing services to the town that are just as important as our education, our utilities,” Speltz told the audience. “We can only protect land when we have willing owners.”
Such natural resources are necessary, he noted, to preserve the town’s drinking water, maintain agriculture, preserve plant and animal habitats, and encourage outdoor recreation.
“It’s fine to preserve a wetland, but if you build everything around it, that wetland is going to die,” said Speltz.
He noted that some of the town’s rarest of residents are the New England cottontail rabbits, which are endangered. Of further interest, he added, is the active heron rookery located within the Musquash Conservation Area.
One goal, Speltz said, is to make sure outdoor recreation areas are accessible to every Londonderry citizen within a 10-minute walk.