Selectmen unanimously refused to support a petition article within the Oct. 29 Norton Annual Town Meeting Thursday by a 5-0 vote, saying the request to raise and appropriate an unspecified amount of money to purchase Pheeny’s Island would result in a dangerous precedent for the town.
The article, submitted by A. Brandt Henderson et al, proposes the town authorize the board of selectmen to acquire the island, the land owned by August M. and Manuel M. Ribiero, by purchase, gift, eminent domain, or otherwise.
The 9.17-acre parcel has been the object of town-wide controversy since developer Kenneth Leavitt proposed creating an island ropes course and adventure camp on the island a year ago.
The developer hired an engineering firm to lay out the course, but in short order found that unnamed residents had come ashore and .
Let Patch save you time. Get great local stories like this delivered right to your inbox or smartphone everyday with our free newsletter. Simple, fast sign-up here.
Residents of the picturesque Reservoir neighborhoods crowded public hearings on the project and claimed the camp would create environmental havoc on the uninhabited island. The sale of the property has yet to be finalized.
Thursday, selectmen said the proposal offers no details about how much the property would cost or how the town would foot the bill.
“Where does the money come from?” asked vice chairman Robert Kimball. “They want us to pay for it.”
Board member Mary Steele said the drafters of the article should come before selectmen and present some numbers.
“What is the benefit to the town?” she asked. “What are the taxes and the liability?”
Kimball said the proposal to take the property by eminent domain doesn't align with the common understanding of that process.
“We don’t have any reason to take someone’s personal property,” he said. “The island was up for sale for more than a year. There was no interest until the zipline project came along.”
“We would have to indicate why the property is unique, and why the municipal entity needed it. I don’t believe there is a case to be made that it is unique,” said member Brad Bramwell.
Kimball recalled that recently a water line had been put through his own property without his permission, and said he had later come to a settlement with the town. He added he was not in favor of seizing someone else’s personal property without a pressing reason.
He commented to take the island in the present situation would be exactly the same as seizing a line of house lots on the shore of the Norton Reservoir to create a parking lot and a boat ramp for the town.
“There is not a valid reason for the town No. 1, to take it, and No. 2, to buy it,” Kimball said.
He also noted the developer’s plan and the attention it has received has likely pushed the cost of the property “sky-high.”
Kimball said there are other beautiful islands in the reservoir the town already owns, and commented any resident with a boat can access them.
Board member Bob Salvo added the board would be opening the town to “huge liability” if it made a move to take a privately owned island.