FALMOUTH —The town is about to add a 25-acre property on Blackstrap Road to its inventory of open space.

Following an executive session Monday, Dec. 14, in which the Town Council discussed the transaction, councilors voted 6-0 to authorizie Town Manager Nathan Poore to acquire the property. Councilor Tony Payne was absent from the meeting.

Considered a gateway property for those entering Falmouth from the northwest, the land will be purchased for $200,000 from Bruce Stillings and Suzanne L. Stillings, Open Space Ombudsman Bob Shafto said. Financing comes from a 10-year, $5 million fund authorized by voters in 2007.

Spread over four budget years, payments without interest will begin with $25,000 this fiscal year 2010, followed by annual mortgage payments over the following three years of $25,000, $50,000 and $100,000, respectively.

“(The Stillings) are very generously selling it to the town at their (1998) cost,” Shafto said.

Though the appraised value has not yet come in, Shafto said it is expected it to be “at least $400,000.”

“It’s about equal parts donation and sale,” he said.

In the unlikely event that the property does not appraise for at least $200,000, the town has the option to return it to the Stillings, Poore said.

“We are trying not to purchase property for more than appraised value,” he said.

Located on the eastern side of the intersection of Babbidge and Blackstrap roads – Lot 21 on Tax Map R08 – the property is important for its scenic value and as a habitat for a variety of wildlife, Shafto said. Five acres of the property are cleared and were once used for growing strawberries and a large vernal pool that divides the field and forested areas offers a habitat for migrating waterfowl.

According to a study completed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the key wildlife is grassland species of birds not native to Maine, Shafto said. These species include bob-o-links, sparrows and plovers, he said. In addition, the vernal pool is one of the few in the immediate area that is significant.

In its “The Greening of Falmouth” report, though the town did not earmark specific properties, it set a goal of protecting significant parcels of 250 acres or more that offer unfragmented habitat, recreational possibilities, watershed protection and aesthetic value, Shafto said.

The Blackstrap property represents the first parcel specified as a second goal in the document, that of dual properties, he said. These include properties that are “hard to define,” but “you know it when you see it,” he said. They include features that lend the town its rural character, such as fields, stone walls and scenic vistas.

“Often, it’s the landscape that predominates in the view, not the buildings,” he said. “The landscape is in the foreground.”

In the case of the Blackstrap property, it also has historical significance. The garage, located on a small piece that will be retained by the owners who live across the street, was once a blacksmith’s shop, Shafto said.

In addition, Shafto said the town hopes to create a trail head at the north end of the property that will provide a third access to the Blackstrap Hill Community Forest. He has verbal permission from an adjacent landowner to bring the trail through a portion of his property, Shafto said, and is confident the landowner is willing to put the agreement in writing.

As ombudsman, Shafto often approaches landowners about selling their property to the town, he said. But in other cases, he said, he receives calls from parties interested in preserving their land as open space. With this newest acquisition, Shafto approached the owners, he said.

“This is a jewel of a property; that gateway property as you come into town – one of the first vistas you have into Falmouth – that’s part of what we’re trying to protect,” he said.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected].

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