Finding of Threatened Species in Foxborough Sparks Debate Over Oak Street Property
White Marbled Salamanders have been found in a vernal pool on the former Camp Lincoln Hill property on Oak Street - a property some town officials hope to sell in auction.
While reviewing the town’s assets, Foxborough officials discovered a threatened species living in the wetlands of the former Camp Lincoln Hill property on Oak Street.
The white marbled salamander was found in a vernal pool on the Oak Street property during a site assessment by the town’s Asset Review Committee.
“Very exciting,” said selectman Lorraine Brue, who also serves on the town’s Asset Review Committee. [We] walked down to the wetlands and the salamanders were swimming around [in the vernal pool there].”
Foxborough Town Manager Kevin Paicos said the finding of the salamanders “is a huge event” because there are only 75 towns in the state that have registered vernal pools with that species present.
“That is a fairly big deal,” Paicos said.
Brue says the property’s wetlands and discovery of the salamanders will have to be taken into consideration by potential developers before purchasing the property.
The town’s Conservation Commission opposes the sale of the Oak Street property altogether, but, according to Brue, the decision will ultimately come down to a Town Meeting vote, which is required for the sale of the Oak Street lots.
Paicos told selectmen he’s hoping to work out a compromise with the Conservation Commission regarding the property for “the good of the town.”
“I’m hoping there is a compromise that we can arrive at fairly soon, which allows some part of [the Oak Street] property sale to go forward and everybody basically gives a little and we do what is good for the town,” Paicos said. “I would hate to see it come down to a warrant article at Town Meeting. That’s not the right way town government should work we should all work together to try and find a compromise.”
A desired compromise, according to Paicos, would be for the town to sell some of the lots at the Oak Street property while protecting the salamanders.
“We are going to work some compromises out here so that some very important natural assets, i.e. salamanders can be preserved,” Paicos said. “Maybe we don’t sell five lots but we can sell some of it for the good of the community.”
Foxborough Conservation Commissioner Judy Johnson told selectmen at the Jan. 22 meeting that these salamanders are protected under the Endangered Species Act and there is more required for the sale of this property than a compromise between the Conservation Commission and town.
“I just wanted to caution the Board of Selectmen that it’s not just the Conservation Commission [opposing the sale of this land],” Johnson said. “There are laws that are involved in here.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, according to Johnson, comes a permitting requirement through the state for any type of activity within 500 to 1,000 meters of the vernal pool.
“That goes way over Oak Street onto the other side and it would also require if you’re going to do anything there you’d have to do a pretty extensive study with experts to determine how the salamanders are moving around in the uplands,” Johnson said. “They use the water for breeding but they live in the uplands.”
Johnson says the study, which could take years, would have to determine how the salamanders are moving into the vernal pool and how critical these terrestrial habitats are around the vernal pool to their existence.
“That’s a requirement under the state,” Johnson added.
In addition to the salamanders, Johnson said ConCom opposes the sale of the Oak Street property because it was purchased by the town with “the purpose of open space and recreation.”
“We feel as though Article 97, which protects open space, should apply to this property,” Johnson said. “As such, you would have to go through the process, which involves a majority vote from the Commission, 2/3 vote at Town Meeting to sell land, special act of legislation to be able to access the property and there’s a no net loss policy, meaning there would have to be other land to swap of equal value.”
“Those issues are all being researched as we speak,” he said. “I don’t want to be contradictory, but I think Judy has a perspective on it, which from a factual, legal point of view may not be correct. We are still researching that.”
To Paicos’ understanding, Article 97 protection is not yet the case for the Oak Street property because “there’s no way, legally, you can take a piece of land in Massachusetts and put it under conservation protection and then conduct back to recreation.”
“In this case, what appeared to have happened there was a vote to conduct recreation and conservation purposes,” Paicos said of the town’s vote to purchase the Oak Street property. “Neither statute was stated. No subdivision plan was shown. What you likely have was a flawed vote.”
Paicos added the property must go back to Town Meeting for a vote if the intent is to put it under conservation protection. Same can be said if some part of the property is to be used or sold.
The Oak Street property was one of five parcels the town’s Asset Review Committee recommended the town try to sell at auction. The other properties are:
- The old fire station in the center of town
- Property on Garrett Spillane Road
- Property on Pine Acres Road
- The old Camp Lincoln Hill property on Oak Street
- The former Keating Funeral Home property on Market Street