Great Barrington to weigh purchase of gravel pit for conservation land

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GREAT BARRINGTON — It is about 65 acres surrounded by forest at the base of Monument Mountain, part of which has been used for at least three decades as a gravel pit.

Now, it's for sale, and a $340,000 offer is on the table from someone in the gravel business.

And because about half the property is classified as forest cultivation land in a state program that gives landowners a property tax discount for such use, the town has the right of first refusal on the land.

Now, town officials have to decide whether the town should buy 671 Stockbridge Road and hold it as conservation land, or allow its continued use as a gravel pit — or something else. The land, which is owned by Swann Real Estate Trust, is zoned by the town for residential use.

The town Planning Board last week sent the matter on to the Select Board, with a unanimous message that the land has possible conservation value.

Planning Board Chairwoman Brandee Nelson noted that the property sits in the midst of the 503-acre Monument Mountain Reservation conserved by The Trustees of Reservations and the 368-acre Agawam Lake Wildlife Management Area to the north, owned by the state Department of Fish and Game.

The town dump and recycling station is immediately to the south.

The catch, though, is that the town would have to match the current $340,000 offer made by Chris Williams of West Stockbridge-based Chris Williams Excavating. The company spun off of W.E. Williams Paving, which on its website says it maintains a gravel bed off Route 7 in Great Barrington.

One planning board member said that the price on offer might kill an attempt at conservation.

"It's a lot of money for conservation land, but it's not a lot of money for a gravel pit," said Jonathan Hankin.

Planning Board members were unclear about whether Williams, if he does buy the property, might try to expand it. Williams could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The property, which is split into two parcels, has been in Chapter 61, Forest Land, since 1981. The largest parcel is about 61 acres, and valued by the town at $327,700. The remaining 3.5 acres is valued at $300.

Hankin said that while special permits from the town are required for gravel pits, this property does not have one currently.

Town officials have consulted with the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, a nonprofit that buys and manages land, said Narain Schroeder, the organization's director of land conservation.

"We've spoken with the town about the parcel and its proximity to TTOR's Monument Mountain Reservation, and the Department of Fish and Game's [Agawam Lake]," Schroeder said in an email. "BNRC might be able to assist in a conservation effort, but we are not likely to take the lead role here."

The town has 120 days to place the land into the hands of a conservation entity like the natural resources council or the state, should town officials vote to go that route.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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