ARLINGTON — Nearly nine months after voting against purchasing the Red Mountain land parcel, the Arlington Select Board voted again not to pursue the property.
In early February, the board voted 4-1 to end its pursuit of the slightly more than 400-acre property, saying there were too many obstacles to the acquisition. Some 9½ months later, at its regular meeting Tuesday, the board voted 3-2 against moving forward on the purchase, saying that some of the same issues remain as deterrents.
Cynthia Browning, Matthew Bykowski and Dan Harvey voted against the purchase, while Todd Wilkins and Glen Sherman supported it.
It was Harvey’s vote that broke the deadlock in a dramatic roll-call vote that had Browning voting no, followed by Wilkins’ “yes,” Bykowski’s “no,” and Sherman’s “yes.”
Those four members had spoken for or against the proposal during the discussion and their votes matched their comments, but Harvey had said he saw both sides of the issue before the vote.
In casting the third “no” vote, he said he had major concerns, including the uncertainty of being able to afford the improvements and maintenance of the property. He also questions who would benefit from the purchase.
“I have a real hard time justifying a project that may benefit a small percentage of the population,” Harvey said.
He said the board sets a high standard for deciding such things, adding, “I don’t think we’ve met the threshold we’ve set for ourselves.”
Browning was a “no” from the start, despite making the motion to approve the purchase just to start the discussion. She said she liked many aspects of the land purchase, including conserving the land under town control, the conservation of the property and recreational opportunities.
“That’s why we kept [the purchase] alive and pursued it,” Browning said.
But she said the access issues were not solved to her satisfaction and she had a “real problem with the cost of maintenance and repair” of the property.
“With some regret, I’ll be voting against the project,” Browning said.
Bykowski also expressed concerns over the financials and said the lack of support from the neighboring property owners was concerning to him.
Wilkins, the only board member to support the purchase in February, and who was a steadfast supporter from the beginning, said he wasn’t as concerned about many of the issues. He admitted there were some legal snags to untangle but didn’t think any of the difficulties were too much for the town to overcome, and the purchase would add a great piece of recreational land to the town.
“It’s still a project worthy of continuing on,” Wilkins said.
Sherman saw merit in most of the arguments for and against, but supported the plan.
Many final comments were submitted by supporters and opponents of the purchase.
During Tuesday’s meeting, several people spoke out against the purchase one final time, issuing concerns about the benefits versus costs, and voicing concern about the misuse of money that was needed for roads, bridges, and other needs.
Many of the opponents live on Wilcox Road, which was initially identified as an access route to Red Mountain. Although that access plan was dropped in the final proposal, residents on Wilcox Road spoke on Tuesday, including Larry Poletti, one of the most steadfast opponents of the project.
Poletti wrote many long, detailed opposition letters during the process, including one final submission, some of which he shared via Zoom.
While many of his concerns were unchanged, he did point out that the means to purchase the property were based on a grant and donations. He called into question some of those numbers.
“The town doesn’t have the money at the time of this meeting,” Poletti said, noting the grant the town was going to pursue had 16 requirements that he wasn’t sure the town could meet.
It was suggested the money should be put toward the recreation park, a notion Browning rejected after the vote, saying the money that had been raised and donated would have to go back to donors and was not available for other purposes.