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Stonehouse Forest Conservation Project – FAQs

Stonehouse Forest Conservation Project – FAQs

Where is the Stonehouse Forest?

The proposed “Stonehouse Forest” abuts the popular Stonehouse Pond property owned by SELT and managed in partnership with the NH Fish and Game Department. The 1,500-acre Stonehouse Forest lies to the east of the property, with frontage on the Franklin Pierce Highway (Route 9/202), Swain Road, Merry Hill Road, and the Nottingham town line, where it abuts the once proposed USA Springs water bottling facility.Stonehouse Forest Map

Why now?

  • Amazing Opportunity: The Stonehouse Forest property consists of over 50 parcels acquired over a period of years by an Italian investor who at one time planned a private exotic game hunting reserve for the property.  This year, prior to listing the property on the open market, the landowner offered the opportunity for conservation organizations to consider acquiring it as public open space.  The Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire (SELT) began negotiating with the owner in the summer of 2015 and finalized an agreement to acquire the land in November.  Under the agreement, SELT must close by September 29, 2017.
  • Significant leverage: The Town’s proposed contribution of $450,000 represents just 13.6% of the total cost. For each $1.00 of Barrington funds, $6.33 from other sources will be secured!
  • Strong partner: A project of this size requires a partner who is ready and willing to raise the necessary funds.  The Southeast Land Trust has a proven track record of completing similar projects, has already secured 50% of the necessary funds, and is applying for additional grants.

Why conserve this particular property? What are the benefits of conserving this land?

  • It conserves a more rural area of Barrington where providing additional community services for expanded residential housing (road maintenance, plowing, fire and police protection, school bus routes, etc) would be costly. If the property were developed, this additional housing would likely have a significant impact on the school tuition payments made by Barrington.
  • Public access for outdoor recreation: The property has and remains posted against public access and hunting, and many people in the area have longed eyed this property as an outdoor recreational gem that the public is missing out on.  With the conservation of the Stonehouse Forest it will very likely become a popular site used by hunters, hikers, cross country skiers and others.  SELT will work with the Town and NH Fish and Game to construct trails, parking area(s) and kiosks so that it can be more easily enjoyed by members of the public.
  • The property is within close proximity to approximately 820 acres of conserved land and directly abuts the 230-acre SELT owned Stonehouse Pond conservation area and the Town held nearly 100-acre Newhall conservation easement. Also in very close proximity is the 50-acre Trickey Lot Town Forest owned by Barrington off of Swain Road.
  • The wildlife habitat and natural resources found on the property are of statewide importance as indicated in several statewide and regional conservation plans. The property likely has many documented occurrences of natural communities and rare plant and animal species that are of high conservation concern.  The importance of the natural resources and wildlife habitat is evident with the substantial commitment of funds toward this project made by LCHIP and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.
  • The property includes numerous high value wetlands and two beautiful natural ponds (Round Pond and Little Round Pond) all of which provide important migratory bird/waterfowl habitat, but also contribute to clean water to Mendum’s Pond and Swains Lake. Mendum’s Pond is a popular recreational destination and beloved by many and is part of the Lamprey River system, one of two Federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in New Hampshire.  Swains Lake is also a very popular recreational destination and its water is part of the Bellamy River system, which is the primary drinking water supply for the City of Portsmouth and several other surrounding communities.  In addition, the vernal pools on the property provide important breeding habitat for numerous amphibians and reptiles.
  • The property includes interesting and scenic geological features such as large glacial erratics (boulders), a small cliff face, and ledge outcrops all of which provide important denning habitat for numerous wildlife species.
  • The property will be owned by SELT, which although a non-profit, has a standing procedure of paying taxes on undeveloped properties it owns at current use rates. In addition, SELT will be managing the forest for wildlife purposes which includes commercial timber management under the guidance and planning by a licensed professional forester.  Thus, the property will still be available to generate timber tax revenue for the Town.  In addition, the landowner will continue to pay current use property taxes to the Town.

I’d like to see the Stonehouse Forest. Are there public tours scheduled of the property?

Yes, we currently have a free public field trip scheduled on February 6 and March 12.  More dates will likely be added.  To sign up for a trip visit http://seltnh.org/events-page/.

Project Details

Who will own the land?

Under the proposed project structure, the Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire (SELT) will own the land subject to a conservation easement.  The conservation easement will prohibit development of the land will allowing compatible forestry, habitat management, and recreational uses.   The easement would be held by the NH Fish and Game Department and the Town of Barrington would hold a Third Party Right of Enforcement.  This arrangement minimizes the Town of Barrington’s long-term commitments to the property.  As the holder of a Third Party Right of Enforcement, Barrington may choose to, but does not have the legal obligation to, enforce the conservation easement should NHFG fail to do so.  In addition, the Town would not have to manage the public trails, wildlife habitat, or address encroachments – these would be the responsibility of SELT.  In essence, the Town receives many of the benefits but little of the burden.

As the owner, SELT would be responsible for management decisions subject to the limitations of the conservation easement and trail and access maintenance.   SELT’s practice has been to make payments to Towns in lieu of taxes equivalent to the current use tax bill.

NHFG would be responsible for monitoring the conservation easement, and if necessary, enforcing it through legal action against SELT or the person that violated the easement terms.

What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a legal document that establishes a set of limitations on the future use and development of a property.  Conservation easements generally prohibit additional residential, commercial, and industrial development and activities (such as new houses, mining, and extraction activities) while allowing compatible uses such as agriculture, forestry, and non-commercial outdoor recreation.   A conservation easement is perpetual and binding on the current and all future owners.  A conservation easement is granted by the landowner and accepted by a qualified non-profit organization or government agency who then agrees to monitor activities and uses of the property and enforce the limitations in perpetuity.

Would public access be allowed? 

Yes.  One of the major benefits of conserving the Stonehouse Forest is that the conservation easement would guarantee public access.  At one time this land was slated as a private exotic game hunting reserve by its Italian owner; therefore the Stonehouse Forest has been posted against public access for decades.  Under the conservation easement, public access and uses fall into three categories – guaranteed, at landowner’s discretion, and prohibited.

Guaranteed: Land is required to be open for public access and can’t be posted against:

  • Pedestrian uses like walking, hiking, birdwatching, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, etc.
  • Hunting and fishing, except landowner can post safety zones around existing residential buildings or during active management activities like trail building or timber harvesting.
  • Snowmobiling will be allowed on certain trails within the property, to be determined in consultation with local snowmobile clubs and NHFG.

Landowner’s discretion: Certain public uses may be allowed at SELT’s discretion, including horseback riding, mountain biking and backcountry camping.

Prohibited: Off-highway recreational vehicles (ORHVs or ATVs) are prohibited by the conservation easement due to the significant resource impacts they create.  SELT may use such vehicles for land management purposes.

It is important to note that the conservation easement only restricts the 1,500 acre Stonehouse Forest property and the easement will not limit or otherwise restrict allowed public uses of the publicly-owned Class VI (unmaintained) Marsh Road that bisects the property and Swain Road, which abuts the property to the north.

Will there be a trail system for public use?  Who will be responsible for maintaining the trail system?

Yes.  The conservation easement will allow SELT, as owners, to use the existing woods road network and construct and maintain trails and information kiosks at trail heads in locations identified through the management plan developed for the property.  SELT will have the ongoing responsibility to manage, maintain, and repair the trail system it creates.  This work is completed with staff, volunteers, and contractors.

Funding and Tax Impact

What is the total project cost?

The total current budget is approximately $3.3 million.  This includes the following costs:

Cost Amount Note
Purchase price of land $2,800,000 Negotiated purchase price
Transaction costs $196,200 Property survey, legal, title, hazardous waste review, appraisals, etc.
Project management $86,150 Consultants, habitat studies, and staff time
Capital improvements for public access $50,000 For initial trails, parking area(s), kiosks, and related work
Conservation Easement Stewardship Fund $35,000 Payment to NH Fish and Game for easement stewardship
Land Management Fund $125,000 To support SELT’s long-term ownership and management of the property
Total $3,292,350

 

How was the purchase price determined?

The purchase price for the land was negotiated by SELT with the owner and represents the low end of a range of value determined by an independent licensed appraiser hired by the landowner.  To verify that this price is consistent with the current real estate market, SELT has commissioned its own appraisal to be completed by an independent, state licensed appraiser.  However, based on a recent appraisal of a conservation easement for a similar sized property (the 1,114 acre Harvey’s Kennard Hill Forest in Epping and Nottingham), SELT fully expects that the pending appraisal will confirm the value of the 1,500+ acres of land is equal to or greater than the purchase price.  Once received, the appraisal will be shared with the Town of Barrington.  Please note that the appraisal of the conservation easement on the Harvey’s Kennard Hill Forest determined that the conservation easement alone was worth $2,780,000 and that property is similar in terrain, wetland percentage, wetland configuration and actually has less useable road frontage than the Stonehouse Forest.

How will the Town’s funds be used?

The Town’s requested funding will be used to support the project purchase price and associated transaction costs (like boundary survey).  The other project management and stewardship costs of the project will be covered by other sources.  The Town’s funds would only be spent if the project is completed.

What happens to the Town’s money if the rest of the project’s costs are not raised?

If the project does not occur, the proposed $230,000 from the previously voter authorized Open Space bond would not be bonded and the proposed $220,000 from the Barrington Conservation Fund funds would not be expended.  If the project does not occur, there will be no tax impact.

When will the Stonehouse Forest be purchased?

Under its sales agreement, SELT must purchase the Stonehouse Forest by no later than September 29, 2017.  Due to the scope of this project, SELT specifically negotiated this significant purchase period in order to allow it the maximum time to secure public commitments and raise private funds.

Why is the Town being asked to commit funding now?

Waiting until the 2017 Town Meeting process to request the Town’s funding would simply be too late for two reasons.  First, applying for public and private grants takes a tremendous amount of resources and time – up to a year for some programs.   Many of these public funding programs and private foundations, as well as individual donors, strongly prefer that a municipality support a proposed project before committing their own funding.  Therefore, the sooner the Town commits its funding, the better chance SELT has to secure the remaining matching funds from other sources.  In fact, one of the significant private funding sources that has awarded $400,000 toward the project, conditioned its award on the Town of Barrington voting to fund the project on or before April of 2016.

Second, by February 2017, SELT must signal its intent to proceed with the purchase by increasing its deposit from $140,000 to $700,000, representing 25% of the purchase price.  Without a commitment from the Town now, SELT’s Board of Directors would likely not authorize making this additional deposit as it would simply be too risky.

How much will the proposed expenditure impact the tax rate?  What will it cost me?

The proposed funds from the Town of Barrington are from two sources, the Barrington Conservation Fund and the Barrington Open Space Bond.

The existing $220,000 from the Barrington Conservation Fund will have NO tax impact.

The proposed use of the remaining $230,000 from the Barrington Open Space Bond would have an estimated tax impact is $0.06 per $1,000 of assessed value (based on an interest rate of 2.18% and a pay back period of 5 years, as provided by the NH Municipal Bond Bank).  This tax impact would be for a period of five years.  You can determine the estimated cost for you by dividing the Town’s assessed value of your property by $1,000 and multiplying it by $0.06.  For a home in Barrington assessed at $250,000, the proposed expenditure of the bond would have a first year tax cost of approximately $15.00, which would drop in the following years until it is paid back after five years.  For more information please reference the Barrington 5 year 230K Bond Schedule.

If this is approved by the Selectmen, what are the Town’s long-term obligations and costs?

Under the proposed structure, the Town will hold a Third Party Right of Enforcement in the conservation easement.  This is a legally deeded interest in the property that protects the Town’s investment.  As the holder of a Third Party Right of Enforcement, Barrington may choose to, but does not have the legal obligation to, enforce the conservation easement should the NH Fish and Game Department fail to do so.  In addition, the Town would not have to manage the public trails, wildlife habitat, or address encroachments – these would be the responsibility of SELT.  NH Fish and Game, as the holder of the easement, would have the perpetual responsibility to monitor and enforce the conservation easement and report back to partners.  This arrangement minimizes the Town’s long-term commitments to the property.  In essence, the Town receives many of the benefits but little of the burden.

What are the other sources of funding?

SELT is pursuing funding from every available and compatible funding source and has secured the following commitments:

  • $420,000 – the NH Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP)
  • $750,000 from the NH Fish and Game Department through the Pittman Robertson Act
  • $400,000 – Open Space Institute’s Resilient Landscapes Initiative

In addition, SELT has secured private donations.  Total commitments as of 12/1/2015 represent 50% of the project’s cost.  SELT intends to apply for additional funding from other state and federal programs and raise private funds.

How likely is it that SELT will raise the remaining funds?

Throughout our history, SELT has successfully completed each conservation project it has entered into an agreement.  Some examples of recent projects that included significant private fundraising are the Governor Dale Farm in North Hampton, Amber Acres in Durham, Batchelder Farm in Hampton, and the Piscassic Greenway in Newfields.  SELT believes it has a reasonable and responsible fundraising plan to raise the necessary funds from grant programs and private parties.

Why should Barrington pay for this? 

Every resident needs to evaluate this question on their own.  But the benefits are numerous:

  • Protection of Barrington’s rural character, scenic beauty, and quality of life
  • Guaranteeing public access to a large area of land currently posted against public access, and thereby allowing traditional recreational activities like hunting, hiking, and cross country skiing and snowmobiling and mountain biking on designated trails/roads
  • Protecting wildlife habitat, key wetlands and stream corridors that flow into Mendum’s Pond (Lamprey River watershed) and Swains Lake (Bellamy River watershed)
  • Reducing potential long-term costs from further residential development in a rural portion of the community

Wouldn’t additional development increase our tax base and reduce our property taxes?

In general, studies of NH communities show that residential development does not produce sufficient revenue to offset the costs of providing community services.  Cost of Community Service studies are a well-known methodology for estimating the fiscal impact of different land uses within a municipality. The studies evaluate the cost and revenue from residential, commercial, and industrial use of property.  While a specific study of Barrington has not been completed, numerous communities in southeastern NH have completed such studies, and all have demonstrated that residential properties consume more in services then in revenues generated.  Conversely, commercial and open space lands (undeveloped lands) consume less in community services than the revenues provided from such land uses.

  Municipal Cost per $1.00 of Revenue  
Community Residential Commercial Open Space Date of Study
Brentwood $1.17 $0.24 $0.83 2002
Deerfield $1.15 $0.22 $0.35 1994
Dover $1.15 $0.63 $0.94 1993
Exeter $1.07 $0.40 $0.82 1997
Fremont $1.04 $0.94 $0.36 1994
Hooksett $1.16 $0.43 $0.55 2008
Lee $1.11 $0.48 $0.51 2004
Milton $1.30 $.035 $0.72 2003
Stratham $1.15 $0.19 $0.40 1996
Windham $1.05 $0.28 $0.57 2010

Numerous reports are available for download and review by Googling “Cost of Community Services studies”.

How much money is being requested from Barrington?

At its initial presentation to the Barrington Board of Selectmen and the Barrington Conservation Commission, SELT requested a Town commitment of $675,000.  Recognizing the Town’s focus on the Town Hall, SELT reduced its request to $450,000 in 2016 with the understanding that it may seek additional support from the 2017 Town Meeting for supplemental funding based on how the project’s fundraising goes in 2016.  Therefore, at this time, the only commitment being requested from the Town is for $450,000.  If approved by the Board of Selectmen and the Conservation Commission, the proposed request would authorize the expenditure of funds from two separate sources:

  • $220,000 from the Barrington Conservation Fund: This fund receives 75% of the Land Use Change Tax paid by developers when land enrolled in current use is then developed.  Its expenditure has no tax impact.
  • $230,000 from the Barrington Open Space Bond. The $800,000 Open Space Bond was authorized by voters in 2005.  To date, $570,000 has been expended to conserve Goodwill and Borodavchuk properties.  The remaining funds can be expended by an affirmative vote of the Board of Selectmen and the Conservation Commission.

This land can’t be developed, so why should we spend money to conserve it?

We will be able to answer with a more definitive response as to the developability of the land soon.  This is because as part of the appraisal process SELT has hired an independent firm to evaluate the property and the Town’s zoning and subdivision rules to provide a conceptual subdivision plan for the potential build out of the site.  All one needs to do is look at the tax maps for the surrounding area and see how similar land has been developed with roads and residential subdivisions.  This property has the added benefit of a good internal woods road system that could be used as a starting point for the development of the property.  The likely scenario for the development of such a large tract of land would be for a developer to purchase it and use a combination of the road frontage and new interior roads to build residential subdivisions leaving room for added expansion deeper into the property.  The developer would at the same time likely heavily log the property to extract as much timber revenue from the property as possible.  These actions would allow them to make their investment back and then some while having a large acreage area to continue to develop over time as a long term investment.

The residential development market in Barrington is heating up and there are several projects that have been recently approved and others developments that are underway in town.  The most recent application to the Planning Board is a 20 lot subdivision proposed near the intersection of Route 125 and Tolend Road, and the Planning Board’s approval earlier in 2015 of a 10 lot subdivision on Gerrier Drive and Saint Matthews Drive. This shows that Barrington is a very desirable community to live in with good access to Concord, UNH, and Portsmouth.

The Italy based landowner had every intent of selling the property on the commercial market for development, but not being familiar with American conservation, he didn’t realize he could sell the land for conservation.  The landowner had had at least one meeting with a large successful developer who was interested in the property, but now that the property is under agreement with SELT, any development plans for the property on are hold pending SELT successfully raising the funds to complete this conservation project.

Why not just expend funds from the Conservation Fund?

There are insufficient funds available in the Conservation Fund to support this request.  The Barrington Conservation Commission has proposed $220,000 of the roughly $299,000 in the Conservation Fund.  The remaining funds are for other possible projects as well as monitoring and stewardship obligations of the Commission.

Who is SELT – the Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire?

Founded in 1980, SELT is a membership-supported, non-profit organization whose mission is to protect and sustain the significant lands in our communities for clean water, outdoor recreation, fresh food, healthy forests, and wildlife.   Based in Exeter, we work with landowners and communities in 52 communities of southeastern New Hampshire to permanently conserve important lands for the benefit of today and future generations.  In 2014, SELT merged with the Strafford Rivers Conservancy, a land trust that previously partnered with Barrington on several conservation projects.  SELT owns over 3,500 acres and holds conservation easement on nearly 200 properties.  In total, SELT has conserved more than 14,000 acres for public benefit.  Learn more at www.seltnh.org.