Is Wilton built out?

WILTON – Has Wilton reached a point where there is too much land being put into conservation?

Will such projects erode the tax base, discourage development and stop the growth of the town? What percentage of the town is developable and how close is the town to that point?

Selectman Dan Donovan asked those questions during a public hearing held by the Conservation Commission on Nov. 18. The Commission plans to donate $10,000 to the Society for the Protection of NH Forests to provide stewardship for a conservation easement being donated “in perpetuity” by longtime resident, Leslie Tallarico.

Donovan said he had no objection to the easement, nor did anyone else, but he said he would “play devil’s advocate. I’m just suggesting that forever is a long time to restrict development. This isn’t necessarily my position and I have great respect for Les and what he is doing.”

Donovan said there are some big issues coming along.

“We have a diminishing population, a shrinking tax base. Land under easement or undevelopable is a long-term concern.”

He listed some upcoming expensive projects: a new roof for the library, fire trucks “that are older than the men who drive them,” major work at the elementary school and eventual closure of the old landfill at the recycling center.

Tallarico has donated the easements on about 100 acres on three lots on Kimball Heights Road, reserving three sites for current houses and one future building site. Value of the development rights has been placed at about $300,000.

Ian McSweeny, a director of the Russell Farm and Forest Foundation, which is overseeing the project and provided funds for surveying, said, “About 2 percent of Wilton is good farm land soils, about 1,500 acres,” the land the Russell Foundation seeks to preserve. He noted that “about 18 percent of the town is under conservation easement.”

He said, as long as the present current use regulations are in effect, “there will be no effect on the tax base.” The property is now under current use and will remain that way.

Good farm land is also the easiest to develop and there may be a need in future for home-grown food.

It was agreed that at least some of the conservation land in town falls into the “undevelopable” category, that is, it is too wet, too steep or too rocky to build on.

McSweensy said the Tallarico easement abuts the Heald Tract, also monitored by SPNHF, restricts any further development, commercial or industrial, protects water and soils. The area will be open for agriculture, passive public use and education.

Conservation Commission Chairman Lynne Draper noted, “There are 120 subdivision lots currently on paper. When the economy picks up, those developments will be built.”

It was also noted that some approved developments have expired without ever being built. That land is still available for future use.

Selectman Rick Swanson asked, “How close are we to build-out (the total of undeveloped land that can be utilized)?” He added that conservation “can be an asset and contributes to the quality of life.”

Selectman Bill Condra said he, too, had “concerns over ever-expanding conservation lands. Eventually, we’ll run out of developable land.”

Several people compared Wilton with Nashua density and said that quality of life was the reason for moving to Wilton. They also noted that “more houses doesn’t always mean a lower tax rate.”

Resident John Shepardson suggested, “Maybe it’s time to readjust our thinking about growth. There are people (in town) who already think we’ve reached the tipping point.”

Lincoln Geiger, manager of the Temple-Wilton Community Farm at Four Corners Farm, noted “some Massachusetts towns that have addressed” this kind of growth, and suggested a study be made of what other towns are doing.

The Conservation Commission approved the withdrawal of $10,000 from the Land Acquisition Fund. The Commission is required to hold a public hearing on withdrawals but controls the use of the fund.