DALTON — Happy Land has been saved.
The town on Wednesday night voted to purchase the undeveloped 41-acre parcel from Crane & Co. for $91,445, rescuing the popular hiking spot from possible development.
Because the land is forested, the town Select Board exercised first refusal rights to prevent Crane from selling it to Perry C. Petricca, who owns a nearby gravel pit and has proposed development projects nearby in the past.
About 100 of the residents attended the special town meeting on the purchase, and all but 1 voted to approve the purchase.
The parcel, off High and Pleasant streets, is known as Happy Land to the many residents who use the property for hiking, dog walking and more.
Town officials on the Select Board and Finance Committee and residents on Wednesday said the public might have been barred from using the land if it was sold to Petricca.
"I'm sure it could and would be developed [if the original buyer had acquired it], and I, for one, did not want to see that happen," said resident Ross Dindio, who regularly walks the property. "I don't think anybody who lives in the area wanted to see that."
Finance Committee Chairman Terry Williams III said the purchase would be made over five years via a bond and would add 3 cents to the tax rate — equivalent to roughly $7 on the average annual town tax bill.
"We're talking about adding a very minimal expense for what the Finance Committee feels would be a good addition to the town because of the fact that it's in the dead center of a very residential area," Williams said, "and it's a beautiful plot."
The state also has expressed interest in potentially purchasing the land, in which case sale of the parcel would pay off the town loan.
One resident suggested the town employee local Boy Scouts to upkeep the trails and help keep trash off the property.
Select Board Chairman John Bartels Jr. said the property currently is designated as forest land and must remain so for five years.
"If there is a change in its designation it would be [after five years]," Bartels said. "At this point in time the Select Board has not made any decision on what to do with the property. Personally, I'd like to see it stay that way or be open space or a recreational area."