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Red Oak on hold

Proposed Birch Ridge developers reach agreement with planners



NEW DURHAM — Almost a year, to the day, after they first approached the New Durham Planning Board with a proposed 157- lot subdivision on the shore of Merrymeeting Lake, representatives from Red Oak Ridge, LLC met with the board on Nov. 10 to ratify the terms of an agreement that will place their proposal on hold, pending the outcome of ongoing efforts to conserve the property.


Under the terms of an agreement drafted by attorneys for both parties over the past four months, Red Oak has promised to suspend any further action on the proposed subdivision for up to three years, giving local residents and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (commonly known as the Forest Society) more time to purse the funding needed to purchase the Birch Ridge property (which, according to a recent appraisal, is valued at $3.5 million to $4 million).


Red Oak (backed by Gruss & Company, a Madison Avenue- based real estate investment firm) first approached the board in November of last year, requesting input on a design for an open space conservation subdivision consisting of 94 single- family homes and 63 duplexes (a total of 220 residential units) on a 2,038-acre parcel of land overlooking the south shore of Merrymeeting Lake, known locally as Birch Ridge.


Faced with widespread public opposition to their initial plan, the developers agreed in July to sign a letter of intent to sell the property, at fair market value, to an entity or entities capable of placing the entire parcel under a permanent conservation easement.


A group of local residents calling themselves the Birch Ridge Conservation Project Group, supported by the Forest Society (which is currently pursuing federal and state grants), have spent the past several months working to raise private donations from community members in support of the project.The board of selectmen has also agreed to present voters at next year’s Town Meeting with a Warrant article asking them to raise and appropriate a municipal bond in the amount of $1.3 million, which would be used to support the conservation effort.


In the event that the town and the Forest Society fail to procure sufficient funding for the conservation option within the three-year time frame specified by the new agreement, a clause has been included granting the board and Red Oak the authority to extend the deadline “if further time is reasonably required to accomplish a conservation result.”


If the conservation plan should fall through completely, or if they decide at any point during the next three years that they no longer wish to pursue the conservation option, and notify the town accordingly, Red Oak has reserved the right to move forward with the initial 157-lot proposal.


The developer has withdrawn the “hybrid” plan it presented to the board in July, which would have consisted of 10 to 15 lots, each measuring 20 acres, with the remainder of the property preserved in its present state.


Although the planning board is now prohibited from conducting any formal hearings on Red Oak’s proposal until the three-year time frame of the agreement is up, the agreement does grant them the authority to hold periodic informational meetings in order to advise both abutters and the general public on the progress of the conservation plan.


The board has also been granted permission, under the terms of the agreement, to develop information about the conservation project, make presentations on it at town meetings and engage in discussions about it with other town agencies. The agreement can be read in its entirety on the town Web site, www.newdurhamnh. us.


Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or


This story reprinted with permission of The Baysider and Salmon Press.


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