For several generations now the Busa Land in East Lexington has been a working farm, and its newish owner—the town of Lexington—doesn't plan on upsetting the status quo anytime soon.
The Board of Selectmen officially decided Monday, March 19, to pursue a community farm on the bulk of the almost 8-acre parcel, which the town purchased for a little more than $4 million in 2009.
The remainder of the property will be used for affordable housing, but the size and scope of that project is yet to be determined.
Earlier this month, the Board of Selectmen had designated uses for the property as open space and affordable housing, as is required under the Community Preservation Act, which was used to purchase the Busa property. On Monday, the selectmen said, the plan was to refine that decision and come closer to delineating what space would be used for which uses. Until then, both a community farm and playing fields were viable options for the portions of the property that would not be used for affordable housing.
Now that's been decided – for the time being anyway.
In past meetings, the pros and cons of a community farm on the Busa Land often have been met with loud cheers or sporadic objections. The 3-2 vote on Monday to pursue an RFP for a community farm, however, was met mainly with silence.
"It’s been a long haul,” said Janet Kern, president of LexFarm, a group that’s been advocating for a community farm and is expected to answer the town’s RFP. “This has come from the community, and from the beginning we had a vision of building a community and bringing a community together around a farm."
It’s been a difficult road to get to this point, but the opportunity opened up by the selectmen’s vote is one that will take continued energy, effort and commitment to carry through to fruition, according to Kern.
“It's a wonderful opportunity, but it's only an opportunity,” she said.
Coming into Monday’s meeting, most of the selectmen had already voiced their opinions. But the board delayed refining its decisions until all members were present.
Selectman Norman Cohen stuck with his feeling that it was prime time to get started with the request for proposals process for a community farm. And Selectman George Burnell maintained his stance that the recreation concerns should not be ignored.
“We would not have bought this property if recreation had not headed the effort, done their homework and brought that to the town for the Town Meeting vote,” Burnell said, harkening back to the original land purchase. “To ignore that would be criminal.”
While Burnell expressed optimism about fitting all three uses on the Busa Land, his colleagues weren’t so sure. Others felt squeezing the three uses—farming, housing and recreation—into the one parcel would likely result in at least two of them being inadequate.
“A single field, with inadequate parking, at the edge of town, does not make a lot of sense to me,” said Chairman Hank Manz, who suggested legitimate concerns about athletic fields would be better addressed elsewhere.
Selectman Peter Kelley, arguing something should be done to reconcile the Busa Land plans with initial push from recreation, advocated for a study or question posed to Town Meeting.
“I don’t think we can win this one,” said Selectwoman Deb Mauger. “What I’d like at this point would be for everyone to be kinda mad and no one outraged.”
The eventual motion, voted 3-2 by the selectmen, was to build affordable housing along Lowell Street, while the majority of the land would be used for a community farm, with the formation of an Agricultural Commision and drafting of an RFP happening as quickly as possible. Existing trails and access paths are to be left as open as possible, and officials shall support an improved Center Complex for recreation, according to the motion.
Cohen, Manz and Mauger were the pro votes, while Kelley and Burnell voted against. Kelley's issue with the motion appeared to be that he felt it should have included the provision that affordable housing uses not take up more than one-third of the frontage along Lowell Street.